Rap artists and women take center stage at Grammys
By DAVID BAUDER
Monday, February 11
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rap artists and women have felt shunned by the Grammy Awards in recent years. But this year, they both took center stage.
Childish Gambino’s disturbing look at race relations, “This is America,” won record and song of the year on Sunday’s telecast. It was the first time a rap-based song won both of those awards, considered — with album of the year — the recording industry’s most prestigious.
Kacey Musgraves won top album and matched Childish Gambino with four Grammys total. A year after many women felt left out of the Grammy telecast, they delivered the night’s most memorable performances. The best new artist winner, British singer Dua Lipa, also cast major shade on the outgoing recording academy president.
Lady Gaga and Brandi Carlile won three Grammys apiece, and former first lady Michelle Obama was a surprise guest at the top of the show on CBS.
Childish Gambino, the stage name of actor Donald Glover, and another prominent rap nominee, Kendrick Lamar, both declined invitations to perform or attend Sunday’s show. Some rap artists feel the Grammys have been slow to recognize how the genre now dominates popular music.
Ludwig Goransson, a songwriter and producer on “This is America,” said backstage that he was surprised the victories were so historic. Just listening to the radio, watching the culture and seeing how many rap songs are downloaded is evidence of rap’s impact.
“It’s about time something like this happened with the Grammys as well,” Goransson said.
Cardi B became the first solo woman to win best rap album, although Lauryn Hill was the lead singer of the Fugees, which won the same award at the 1997 Grammys. Cardi B was so nervous accepting the award that she joked, “Maybe I need to start smoking weed.”
She looked anything but rattled earlier, when her rendition of “Money” was among the night’s performance highlights. Janelle Monae delivered a smoking version of her hit “Make Me Feel”; St. Vincent and Dua Lipa’s duet on “Masseduction” was steamy; H.E.R. turned heads with “Hard Place”; and Carlile sang an inspired version of her hit “The Joke.”
Being part of a big night for women was huge to her, Carlile said backstage after the show.
“I’m a kid from the ’90s and Lilith Fair, you know, and those women were just dominating those platforms,” she said. “They were dominating those arena and amphitheater stages. They were getting record deals. They were becoming record executives themselves. They completely controlled the airwaves. They were on the radio. And to watch that backslide for the last 20 years has been heartbreaking. Tonight, it gives me hope as a mother of two young daughters.”
When she accepted her best new artist award, Dua Lipa pointedly said, “I guess this year we really stepped up.”
That was a reference to outgoing Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow, who said women needed to “step up” when he was asked about the lack of women in top categories in 2018. He later acknowledged it was a poor choice of words and delivered another mea culpa on Sunday’s show.
Yet Dua Lipa was rewarded by having her acceptance speech cut off mid-sentence. She wasn’t alone, however, as a handful of other artists were also hustled off the stage, and the show seemed disjointed at the end, rushing through its final awards. Under the circumstances, having a lengthy tribute to Portnow before he gave his own speech seemed tone-deaf.
Lipa said later she would have thanked her fans, her inspirations and team if she had more time.
When she was onstage, Lipa was one of a handful of winners who paid special tribute to fellow artists. Another was Drake, whose appearance to accept the Grammy when “God’s Plan” won best rap song was a surprise because he’s not big on award shows.
He reminded fans and fellow artists that awards are based on the subjective views of others, and aren’t contests in which there are clear winners and losers.
“You’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your hometown. Look, if there are people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain and the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here. I promise you. You already won,” he said at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Musgrave picked up album of the year for “Golden Hour,” which is labeled country but had wider appeal.
“I never dreamed that this record would be met with such love, such warmth, such positivity,” said Musgraves, who performed a stately version of her song “Rainbow.”
Dolly Parton starred in the best of the night’s two tributes to veteran artists, performing a medley of her songs with Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Maren Morris. The highlight of Diana Ross’ night was the cute introduction by a grandson with a mountain of hair.
The Grammys took some online blowback by having Jennifer Lopez deliver a tribute to Motown, once the nation’s preeminent label for black artists. Despite her hustle, Lopez was outshone by show host Alicia Keys and Smokey Robinson delivering one verse of “Tracks of My Tears” a capella.
Obama appeared on the show’s opening with Keys, Gaga, Lopez and Jada Pinkett Smith to describe the role music had played in their lives — seemingly a pointed reference to last year’s controversy over women artists.
“Music has always helped me tell my story,” Obama said. “Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. It allows us to hear one another.”
Another ex-White House resident was awarded a Grammy on Sunday. Former President Jimmy Carter, who is 94, won an award for best spoken word recording.
It’s his second Grammy.
Associated Press writers Mesfin Fekadu, Nekesa Mumbi Moody, Jonathan Landrum and Beth Harris contributed to this report.
Ariana Grande a no-show despite winning first Grammy Award
By JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr.
AP Entertainment Writer
Monday, February 11
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ariana Grande won her first Grammy Award on Sunday, but the singer didn’t collect it after deciding to skip the ceremony following a public dispute with the show’s producer.
Grande won the best pop vocal album trophy for “Sweetener,” beating Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello. Grande was not in attendance at the pre-telecast ceremony, but she wrote on Twitter that her win was “wild and beautiful.”
“I know I’m not there tonight,” she tweeted. “Trust, I tried and still truly wished it had worked.”
Grande accused Grammy telecast executive producer Ken Ehrlich of lying about discussions with the superstar singer about performing at Sunday’s ceremony. Ehrlich told The Associated Press on Thursday that Grande had told producers that she didn’t have adequate time to prepare.
“As it turned out, when we finally got to the point where we thought maybe it would work, she felt it was too late for her to pull something together for sure,” he said in an interview.
But Grande fired back in a social media post that she “can pull together a performance over night and you know that, Ken.” She alleged her “creativity” and “self-expression” was “stifled,” adding, “I hope the show is exactly what you want it to be and more.”
During the show, Grande also tweeted and quickly deleted criticism of the Grammys after the late Mac Miller — her ex — lost to Cardi B for rap album of the year.
Grande called Miller’s loss “trash” and also used an expletive. She later clarified she wasn’t criticizing Cardi B.
Miller died of an accidental drug overdose last year at age 26.
Grande has been featured on billboards promoting the show, airing live on CBS from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Her song “God Is a Woman” was nominated for best pop solo performance, but she lost to Lady Gaga, who won for “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?)”
Without Grande, performers at the Grammys will include Cardi B, Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Diana Ross, J Balvin, Camila Cabello, Brandi Carlile, Dan + Shay, H.E.R., Little Big Town, Post Malone, Chloe x Halle and Dua Lipa.
Grande released her new album, “Thank U, Next” on Friday.
Grammy weekend kicks off with honor for Dolly Parton
By BETH HARRIS
Saturday, February 9
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nobody pokes more fun at Dolly Parton — all hair, sequins, nine-inch nails and five-inch stilettos — than the country superstar herself.
Parton was celebrated for her musical achievements and philanthropic work as MusiCares Person of the Year on Friday night. She’s the first country artist to be saluted in the tribute’s 29-year history.
Garth Brooks, Brandi Carlile, Miley Cyrus, Shawn Mendes, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Katy Perry, Pink, Chris Stapleton and Don Henley were among those honoring the 73-year-old singer-songwriter two days before the Grammy Awards.
“All of my life I have been known for two things. Well, not them,” the well-endowed Parton joked in a bawdy acceptance speech. “I’ve also been known as a singer and songwriter too. Although I’m not complaining. Ol’ Pancho and Lefty’s been pretty good to me. Everybody always expects me to do a boob joke and I like to do that right up front.”
Surprising Parton with her award and earning a standing ovation were Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, who teamed with Parton for two successful “Trio” albums. It was a rare public appearance for Ronstadt, who can’t sing anymore because of Parkinson’s disease, which Parton mentioned.
“It has been a wonderful journey,” Parton said.
As Parton rushed to embrace Harris and Ronstadt, her award crashed to the floor. It appeared to survive intact.
Parton said people ask her about it being a man’s world when she got into the music business in the 1960s.
“I never met a man that I didn’t like and I never met a man whose (rear) I couldn’t kick if he didn’t treat me with the right respect,” she said, drawing raucous cheers.
Earlier, Parton watched from the audience while other performers sampled her vast catalog.
Wearing a black jacket with Parton’s visage on the back, Pink kicked off the evening with a powerhouse rendition of the man-stealing song “Jolene.”
Gospel singer Yolanda Adams received a standing ovation for “I Will Always Love You,” the Parton-penned song famously covered by Whitney Houston.
“Yolanda, you killed that,” said Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town.
Cyrus, who is Parton’s goddaughter, and Mendes dueted on “Islands in the Stream” with Mark Ronson on guitar. Grammy nominee Carlile and Nelson sang “Everything’s Beautiful (In Its Own Way).”
“We love you, Doll,” Nelson said.
Backed by a horn section, Stapleton tackled “9 to 5,” getting the audience clapping along to Parton’s ode to empowered yet challenged working women.
Musgraves and Perry teamed up on “Here You Come Again,” with Perry decked out in lilac fringe with matching boots and cowboy hat.
“We want to be just like her when we grow up,” Perry told the crowd.
Brooks and his wife Trisha Yearwood teamed up on “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You,” sealing it with a kiss.
Henley and Vince Gill strummed guitars on “Eagle When She Flies.”
Backed by a choir, Leon Bridges and Mavis Staples took the crowd to church on “Not Enough.” Bridges got into the spirit of the evening with white cowboy boots and a denim jacket with his name and a white horse on the back and red barn patch on the front.
“It’s been such a thrill for me tonight to see all these great artists singing songs I’ve written or been a part of,” Parton said. “Watching them is sort of like watching porn. You’re not personally involved but you still get off on it.”
The crowd roared and Parton said, “Hey, don’t blame me. At my age you’ll take anything you can get.”
She closed the evening by performing “Coat of Many Colors.
“I had my nails too long to pick tonight because I’m gettin’ ready for the Grammys,” Parton explained in having Linda Perry play guitar.
Friday’s dinner and auction at the Los Angeles Convention Center generated more than $6.7 million, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said.
MusiCares, run by the Recording Academy, provides financial assistance to individuals in the music industry during times of financial, medical and personal need.
“Of course you know we hillbillies need MusiCares too,” Parton said. “We may not have sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, but two out of three ain’t bad.”
Weezer’s cover album: Is the rock band honoring or exploiting the originals?
February 11, 2019
Author: Ryan Raul Bañagale, Crown Family Professor for Innovation in the Arts, Colorado College
Disclosure statement: Ryan Raul Bañagale does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Colorado College provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
A cover song can both enhance and diminish the legacy of the original artist.
If you’ve noticed the 1980s hit “Africa” playing on the radio more than usual, you likely weren’t listening to the original version by Toto. Instead, it was probably the recently released cover by Weezer, which has already been heard over 25 million times on Spotify.
Maybe you know the backstory: A teenage fan started a joke Twitter account, @weezerafrica, in order to persuade her favorite band to cover her favorite song. Days later, the hashtag #WeezerCoverAfrica went viral, and, after months of virtual prodding, the band indulged the request.
Weezer’s ‘Teal Album’ is entirely made up of cover songs – and their fans love it.
To everyone’s surprise, Weezer suddenly had a chart-topping hit – its best performing single in a dozen years. And it isn’t even the band’s own song. Now Weezer has released an entire album of covers – a self-titled EP affectionately known as the “Teal Album,” which has already hit No. 5 on the Billboard 200.
As a musicologist, Weezer’s successful foray into cover songs made me think about the overall trajectory of the practice.
They’re usually a fun way to memorialize an existing song and pass it along from one generation to the next. But the practice isn’t free of controversy.
Enriching our collective musical memory
The editor of a book on cover songs, communication scholar George Plasketes writes that covers are “about favorite songs and great songs. Classics and standards.” They show how “musical artifacts are kept culturally alive, repeating as echoes.”
To Plasketes, regardless of what a musician might add or subtract in the process, cover songs capture and convey a collective musical history.
The concept of covering has been around as long as music has been written down. The earliest choirs for Catholic masses often sang versions of earlier Gregorian chants. These “covers” were intended to both teach and entertain – to attract worshipers and spread Christianity. Then, as now, covers circulated culture.
Scholars have identified many categories of cover songs, but people are probably most familiar with two of them: the “straight cover” and the “transformative cover.”
The former, also known as a “karaoke cover,” sounds almost exactly like the original, which is the route taken by Weezer. Such an approach might pay homage to a music influence, like The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” which had been popularized by The Isley Brothers but was originally recorded by The Top Notes.
A straight cover can also form a sort of ironic commentary. Cultural theorist Steve Bailey notes that, while such covers “tend to ridicule the originals,” they also “celebrate the continued vitality … of the music and its importance.”
Certainly, there’s a dose of irony to Weezer’s “Africa” – the band recorded it at the request of fans, not necessarily out of some deep connection to the music or as a nod to Toto’s influence. We can’t be certain, but it seems as if Weezer’s poking fun at the ‘80s hit, while still staying true to the original.
More frequently, covers fall into the transformative category, which is when musicians put their artistic stamp on a song.
Consider a hit such as Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Houston was able to transform Dolly Parton’s original country song into a pop anthem.
Then there’s Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” which famously flipped the gender dynamics of Otis Redding’s original – all of a sudden it was a woman asking “for a little respect when you get home.”
The contradictions of the cover
It’s fun to hear one performer emulate another or to experience a familiar song made anew. But the question of “who gets to cover whom” reveals one problematic aspect of the genre.
As white rock ‘n’ rollers usurped black rhythm and blues artists in the 1950s, countless covers became known not as covers but rather as the definitive version.
Did you know that Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was originally performed by rhythm-and-blues singer Big Mama Thornton? Or that Bill Haley’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” was first recorded by blues shouter Big Joe Turner?
Elvis Presley covered Big Mama’s ‘Hound Dog’ – and reaped the rewards.
These two versions are especially emblematic of the issue. Not only are the covers safer, less-sexualized renderings geared to a white teenage market, but their subsequent popularity severed the songs’ original associations with their black creators. Elvis and Haley earned millions of dollars off of this appropriation. Few hear “Hound Dog” and think of Big Mama Thornton.
On digital streaming platforms and automated playlists, cover versions of popular songs can still siphon attention and money away from the original. Enter any title from Weezer’s “Teal Album” into Spotify or YouTube and the new recordings sit right next to the originals. At the same time, this side-by-side placement might encourage deeper exploration of our musical past. If you realize that your favorite song is actually a cover, you might be inclined to listen to the original.
But do we need to know the original to appreciate a cover? Or even be aware that a song we know well is a cover to begin with? Listeners unfamiliar with Nine Inch Nails might believe Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” is originally his. No doubt similar assumptions have been made about Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which is actually a Bob Dylan tune. Many other artists have also covered “All Along the Watchtower.”
If a song gets repeatedly covered, it could be a sign of its artistic strength. As professor of American literature and culture Russell Reising writes, “There’s clearly something about the Dylan original that not only continues to inspire performers but resonates with the socio-political events of our culture.”
Even great originals can possess a degree of unrealized potential just waiting to be discovered by the artists that cover them.
Steve Crook, logged in via Google: Did you know that Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was originally performed by rhythm-and-blues singer Big Mama Thornton?
Yes, and it’s a song that really only makes sense when sung by a woman. She has incredible drive and energy.
As long as rights are preserved and there’s no obvious plagiarism I just don’t see the problem. Even better if the cover artist makes an effort to explain why they’re covering a particular song.
I can think of a number of covers where I like the cover more than the original:
John Martyn covering “God’s Song” by Randy Newman and “Excuse Me Mister” by Ben Harper. Both original artists do great jobs, but for me Martyn’s voice, phrasing and delivery just hit the spot. Pink Floyd’s “Money” on Dub Side Of The Moon and Hayseed Dixie’s cover of, well, almost anything…
Then there’s Tomita reworking classical music. ELP got in on the act too. There was a fuss about disrespect, not being true to the composer’s intent blah, blah, blah.
If we were talking about a Cole Porter song and whether Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald had dibs on the best version, no-one would be suggesting it could only be the one sung by Porter himself and that the other versions were somehow lesser copies.
Just enjoy the music.
Ryan Raul Bañagale, Crown Family Professor for Innovation in the Arts, Colorado College, In reply to Steve Crook: Thanks for the observations, Steve. I’m glad that you bring up copyright in all of this. Typically, the song’s authors receive royalties, but the original singer does not. In the case of “Hound Dog,” Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller rode Elvis’s success all the way to the bank.
I agree that there are many many covers that are better than the original. What is it about some of the songs you specifically identify that makes you enjoy them so?