Adele, Beyonce and … John Oliver?

North Korea launched a ballistic missile on Sunday in what some officials said was an attempt to challenge Donald Trump’s policy towards the nation. Iran demonstrated its might on Friday in a dramatic parade to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s revolution and diplomatic break from the United States.

But none of that matters because …

QUEEN BEY.

Last night’s 59th Grammy Awards exhibited its usual glitz and glam as the nation’s most recognizable pop stars joined together to celebrate all the music that dominated radio waves in 2016. Plus Sturgill Simpson.

And while I’m increasingly convinced that Grammy officials choose nominees by getting drunk and googling “Top Musicians 2016,” I will admit that the show did provide a nice distraction from the usual doom and gloom news surrounding our current administration and the world’s response to it (see: first paragraph).

chance-the-rapper

Because the Grammys are so largely watched and even serve as many people’s refresher course to today’s music scene, it does fortunately provide some deserving artists with the necessary platform into national, if not global consciousness.

Artists like Chance the Rapper.

I’m admittedly ignorant towards hip-hop because it simply just doesn’t appeal to me, but Chance the Rapper won me over during his ESPYs tribute to Muhammad Ali last summer. I learned that, despite his stage name, Chance the Rapper is as much a singer as he is a rapper. But most of all, he is a lyricist.

Chance won two major Grammy Awards and showcased his abilities in an energetic, soulful show-capping performance. The average music listener knew who he was, but now everyone witnessed his talent.

Other than that, we watched Adele boldly stop her live tribute to George Michael to start over after a dysfunctional start.

Beyonce

We saw the members of Twenty One Pilots remove their pants before walking on stage to accept an award, and then share an endearing story about how they pledged years ago while watching the Grammys to go pants-less if they ever ended up winning anything.

We saw CBS severely overestimate the universality of the lyrics of “Sweet Caroline” in a Carpool Karaoke sketch that fell flat.

And we saw Beyonce do … something. While I like to think of myself as verbally creative and imaginative, I’m severely lacking an artistic gene, and thus any symbolism behind 21-pilotsBeyonce’s performance completely went over my head. But it was visually stimulating, and she sounded great.

So, in conclusion, Beyonce’s the queen, we’re all inferior, she probably should’ve won Album of the Year over Adele, and I’ll leave it at that.

At this point, I think it’s safe to assume that Adele and Taylor Swift will spend the next 20 years alternating who wins the most Grammy Awards annually. Next year, it’s all T-Swizzle.

But the evening couldn’t be completely devoid of politics. Around the same time the Grammys neared its end, HBO saw the welcome return of John Oliver and his brilliant show Last Week Tonight.

His segment, focusing on Donald Trump’s clear disconnect from reality, is a must-watch for any American. It’s been extremely evident to see how much Trump lies, but John Oliver has a way of condensing a topic to make it so bright-as-day that you can’t possibly deny it. It’s the 30-minute release that Trump opponents have been waiting for, and it’s objectively insightful.

I guess that means if Beyonce is the queen for music lovers, than John Oliver is the king for us political nerds?

My life clearly needs more excitement.

Perhaps I’ll go to work tomorrow pantsless, Twenty One Pilots style.

That’s it. I’ve decided. I’m doing it.

And by pantsless, I mean wearing corduroy pants and an argyle sweater.

Bad Boy 4 Life.

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2016: let the reflection begin

For the sake of future children everywhere, I hope that that the person who writes the authoritative textbook on history for students decides to go from 2015 straight to 2017.

Between the iconic celebrity deaths, the Chicago Cubs defying order and reason by winning the World Series, and of course, the rambunctious presidential election that resulted in one of the most unpopular president-elects in our nation’s history, it’s safe to say that most people won’t be too upset to turn the calendar over in a few weeks.

But first, as in all years, December is all about reflection.

It’s the time when we review the events of the last 12 months with year-end lists, award nominations, and of course, Time’s selection of Person of the Year.

Before I spoil the major surprise by revealing who that person was, let’s first talk about Tuesday’s nomination announcements for the Teen Choice Awards — I mean, Grammys.

I don’t know If I am becoming more out of touch with today’s popular music, but I have never been more dumbfounded by Grammy nominations than this year.

Four of the five best album nominations belong to Beyonce, Adele, Justin Bieber and Drake.

beyonce-lemonade2

How in the world is this an accurate reflection of the best music that our nation has to offer? Those are the best albums of the year?

If the Grammys wants to cater to a younger audience and pay homage to the music that makes the biggest dent on the radio and in album sales, then fine, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But we need to recalibrate what exactly the Grammys is. It’s not the best music. It’s the most talked about music.

The fifth person in that category, by the way, must have surprised the majority of people who were expecting it to be rounded out by some one like Frank Ocean or Kanye West.

It’s Sturgill Simpson, a folk/alt-rock musician whose 2016 album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, is actually pretty damn good. I’d recommend listening to the track “Welcome to Earth (Polywog),” which should give you a decent idea of what the man is all about.

I laugh when I think about all the teenagers who must have tweeted their confusion over who Sturgill Simpson is on Tuesday morning. Although, in their defense, he was just as surprised as everyone else.

And Time Person of the Year. Obviously it was Donald Trump. There’s no denying that notrump-time-poty man played a bigger impact in global conversation this year than him — even if readers preferred Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Hey, Hitler and Stalin (twice!) were also Time Persons of the Year. Just sayin’.

This selection is so obvious that it’s not even really news. If you have to make a Trump Meter of the top news stories involving Donald Trump, it wouldn’t even crack the top 10, following his potential policy-shifting phone call with Taiwan, his spontaneous lambasting of Boeing and his selection of a climate-change dissenter and a WWF founder to his cabinet.

And that’s all in the last six days.

If Trump is the Person of the Year in 2017, 2018 and 2019, too, well then future historians might as well just leave out this entire half-decade when they write the next textbook.

Obama left office in 2017 … and then it was 2021.

They’ll buy that.

Grammys 2016: The Force of Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar Awakens

For a show that exists to honor the best in music for the past year, the 58th Annual Grammy Awards did not seem all too interested in giving out, well, awards.

Of the 81 awards disseminated by the academy on Monday, only eight happened live on television. The rest of the three and a half hour broadcast was filled with performances.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Acceptance speeches are widely considered the most boring part of an awards show.

Taylor Swift Grammy winBut there are just so many artists and bands who  won Grammys, who, for all intents and purposes, may as well have not existed on Monday because their category didn’t make the live show.

Consequently, anyone who doesn’t stay up to date with music but only tunes into the Grammys officially thinks the only musicians that exist right now are Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, Meghan Trainor and the Weeknd.

But I digress.

Anyway, like any awards show, there was the good and the bad last night.

The talk of the town are the first two people I mentioned above. Taylor Swift, who became the first women to win Album of the Year twice, and used her speech to not only empower young woman, but to apparently throw some serious shade at Kanye West. 

Taylor, I’m on your side. But when you publicly shame Kanye, it does not go quietly. The man may be a musical genius, but mentally, he’s not all there. Keep Selena Gomez and the rest of your female posse close by. You may need it.

The other highlight was Kendrick Lamar, whose 2015 release “To Pimp a Butterfly” swept all the rap categories but fell short on Album of the Year to Swift’s “1989.” But what people will remember most was his spellbinding, socially conscious performance, which will probably upset the same white people who didn’t like Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime performance last week — which, might I add, Saturday Night Live hilariously chimed in on this weekend.

Kendrick Lamar Grammys2.jpg

What people also will likely remember was Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie, which frenetically rushed through 10 of his songs in a matter of minutes. While ambitious, the whole thing seemed too chaotic and over the top, which, apparently was the same sentiment expressed by David Bowie’s son.

And what gives with Justin Bieber’s performance? It was his first time getting to perform nationally in the Post Everybody Hates Bieber era (which, correct me if I’m wrong, is somewhere between the Jurassic and Pleistocene era on the epochal timeline), and they took his song that is grounded in electronic, computer-made sound and instead performed it with actual instruments? It changed the entire complexion of the song.Lady Gaga Bowie2

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the mess that was the Hollywood Vampires. That was just scary.

But let me say this. The Grammys seem to be obsessed with medleys, unusual artists pairings, and experimental performances. It’s the Grammys, so they want everything to be unique.

And that’s what made the performance by the Eagles, joined by Jackson Browne, singing “Take it Easy” as a tribute to the late Glenn Frey so special. They simply sang a classic song, from start to finish, telling people to take it easy in an era when people are no longer physically capable of taking it easy.

It was the most honest, sincere and heartfelt moment of the night, in my mind.

On that note, I can’t think of any better way to pay tribute to their tribute by spending the rest of the evening taking it easy by pulling my own Eagle.

That did not come out right at all.

The Weinblog’s top albums of 2015

As the year winds down, the Weinblog continues to reflect on all that the year had to offer.

One of those things was music. Plenty of new releases made their way from the studio to our ear drums this year, and some were better than others.

This is the second straight year I’ve ranked what I thought were the best albums of the year, and after doing some serious listening over the recent weeks, I’ve narrowed it to 12.

And despite receiving my praise yesterday, you will not find Justin Bieber on this list.

Enjoy.

12.
Gypsy Heart
Colbie Caillat

Gypsy Heart

I debated what to put in the last spot for quite a while, and then decided that If I didn’t go with Colbie Caillat’s Gypsy Heart, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. OK, that’s maybe an exaggeration. But the songs on this album (particularly in the top half) are just so pure, so empowering and so well-intentioned that I thought I’d be remiss not to acknowledge it in era where musicians tends to forget that they have the unique ability to inspire young people with their words. There’s no tricks here. No over-the-top hooks. Just Colbie singing from her heart.

11.
Kintsugi
Death Cab for Cutie

Kintsugi.jpg

Ben Gibbard has a unique ability to slow the tempo and invoke emotion with his voice without ever becoming too tedious. Kintsugi is further evidence of that. I can’t help but listen to Death Cab for Cutie and feel a sense of longing, or nostalgia … for what, I don’t know. But it’s there. Indeed, Kintusgi may even have an added flair of somberness tinged in since it’s the first release since Gibbard’s and Zooey Deschanel’s marriage fell apart. The album is bookended by its best tracks, “No Room in Frame” and “Binary Sea.”

10.
Payola
Desaparecidos

Payola

Right out of the gate, Payola smacks you in the face with its heavy riffs, smash-mouth lyrics and aggressive attitude, and it maintains that edge throughout. The punk rock band, headed by Conor Oberst, just seemed like they were on a mission with this album, as they touch on many socioeconomic issues in their songs. But the result is a powerfully raw, angry and restless album that makes for a very lively and enjoyable listen.

9.
Dark Bird is Home
The Tallest Man on Earth

Dark Bird is Home.jpg

Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, known by his stage name The Tallest Man on Earth, is known for his raw and simple delivery. He’s just a man and his guitar, singing about life. But with Dark Bird is Home, Matsson adds a jingly, instrumental accompaniment that perfectly suits his voice and adds more depth to the tracks. The whole thing is just very pleasurable to listen to on many levels.

8.
What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress
Sara Bareilles

Sara_Bareilles,_What's_Inside_–_Songs_from_Waitress_(2015)

Underrated as one of the best singer-songwriters of our generation, Bareilles sticks to her roots, singing about romance and relationships, but this time does it in a more theatrical way. Which is fine, as it shows us another element of her amazing talent. The theatrical feel makes perfect sense, as the songs were written by Bareilles as a score to a musical, which she decided to translate into a full-length album. The whole album is really good, but hits its stride at the end with tracks nine through 11, namely “You Matter To me,” “She Used to Be Mine” and “Everything Changes.”

7.
Wilder Mind
Mumford & Sons

Wilder Mid

As a devoted Mumford & Sons fan ever since I first heard “Little Lion Man” on the radio in 2009, I was admittedly apprehensive when I learned the band was changing course, ditching the banjo for its forthcoming release and replacing it with the electric guitar. By doing so, they were essentially abandoning their folk roots, which is what made them who they are. Even after the first couple listens of Wilder Mind, I was still dubious — with the exception of “The Wolf,” which I liked from the get-go. But after stepping away for a couple of months and returning to the album with a fresh ear, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is awesome. It’s different, for sure, but at the heart of each track is still the same old Mumford & Sons. For the most part, the tracks are a little less explosive and more refined, but the band still displays their subtle brilliance to begin a track slowly and build to a dramatic climax, best exemplified in the track “Only Love.”

6.
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
The Decemberists

What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World

I’ve always loved The Decemberists, but seeing them live in Newport, Rhode Island this summer made me a fan for life. They are just such a cheerful, energetic bunch on stage. And they’re also very good at making music. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is a continuation of the band’s great catalog, an indie-rock serenade that you can’t possibly listen to without feeling your mood brighten. It’s endlessly hopeful and charming, and ends with a bang, with “A Beginning Song,” which may be my favorite Decemberists track ever.

5.
Pageant Material
Kacey Musgraves

Pageant Material

There’s something so incredibly appealing in what Kacey Musgraves does. She possesses the furthest thing from powerhouse vocals, but has the unique ability to tell a story in every one of her songs. Her straightforward delivery really helps you pick up the lyrics, and you find that they are actually really funny and poignant, but at the same time, flow perfectly within the song without seeming too forced. I don’t know any other artist today that can match her ability to create songs that are so simple, yet so multi-layered. Just take a listen to the album’s title track “Pageant Material,” and really try to hear what she’s saying if you want to fully grasp Kacey’s brilliance. It’s a great follow-up to the Grammy-winning Same Trailer, Different Park, but with a little more sass and humor embedded within.

4.
I Love You, Honeybear
Father John Misty

I Love You, Honeybear.jpg

I Love You, Honeybear is really an achievement in indie rock singer-songwriting, which I’m not sure was really a genre until Joshua Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, made it his own with this release. There’s really nothing else like this in music today, and it’s a perfect example of how experimenting with music and lyrics can be a win-win for all. It’s not at all conventional, and will at times challenge your musical palate, but that’s a good thing.

3.
The Firewatcher’s Daughter
Brandi Carlile

Brandi_Carlile,_The_Firewatcher's_Daughter

It’s about time this woman deserved her due. As far as vocal ability, Brandi Carlile is up there with almost anyone else in the music industry today. Her voice has so much depth and range that it almost works against her in the sense that it leaves her without a genre. She’s a hybrid of country, folk, rock and alternative. But whatever it is — it’s awesome. With The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Carlile really channeled all of her life inspiration into a beautiful anthology in an extremely mature fashion. There’s up-tempo rock mixed with slow ballads, all heavily imbued with emotion, and each of which showcase the extraordinary talents of Brandi Carlile.

2.
25
Adele

25

Quite simply, nobody else in the world can do what Adele does. Her voice is second to none, and thus, 25 could not be recorded by anybody else.  I went into this album weary of praising it just because it’s Adele, and because critics will tell me I should, but it didn’t take long for me to appreciate it. The second single, “When We Were Young,” is an extremely powerful and emotive song, rich with feelings of nostalgia, that could go down as her biggest hit yet. The whole album is a tour de force driven by Adele’s bluesy and soulful voice, which is very refreshing in today’s bubblegum pop-driven contemporary music industry

1.
Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan_Stevens_-_Carrie_&_Lowell.jpg

There’s just something so soulfully haunting when it comes to Sufjan Stevens that it’s almost hard to listen to his music over and over again. But with Carrie & Lowell, Stevens created a much more accessible album that could not be more blissful or soothing. His almost whisper-like quality of singing puts the listener into a surreal, dreamlike state of mind. It’s absolutely criminal that the album was ignored by the Grammys this year, but in the grand scheme of things, the most important thing about music is the impact that it has on people, and I think the acclaim that the album has received speaks for itself. It’s chilling in so many ways, but never becomes depressing, and may even leave you with a small feeling of hope. And that, my friends, is why it’s the best album of 2015.

The world reacts to Trump, Jon Stewart’s epic return and a major Grammy snub

The main reason I wanted to wait a day to talk about Donald Trump’s senseless proclamation he made towards Muslims on Monday was to give the world time to digest it.

I was hopeful that decency and sanity would prevail.

And thankfully, it did.

The world has not lost its mind. At least not yet. Not only did fellow Republicans condemn his proposal — including new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who previously had said he would not comment on the presidential race — but people across the world came out to voice their disapproval.

trump_voldemortThe mayor of St. Petersburg in Florida facetiously said he was “barring Donald Trump” from entering his city until all Trumps are proven to not be dangerous.

But the retort of the day went to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who said, “How horrible. Voldemort was nowhere near as bad.”

As someone who spent much of his childhood — and admittedly, some of his young adulthood — immersed in the Harry Potter universe, this was especially awesome for me.

But that’s that. It’s not even worth dignifying such bigotry with any more commentary.

Especially when yesterday brought us other news. The Daily Show welcomed back a familiar face, as Jon Stewart returned as a guest to publicly shame the Republican lawmakers who are holding up the renewal of the Zadroga Act, which provides treatment for those who were among the first responders on Sept. 11, 2001, a large chunk of whom are dying now from the toxic fumes they inhaled that day.

It was a really powerful piece and one definitely worth watching. And it Jon Stewart Trevor Noahwas a stark reminder of how much our world needs Jon Stewart. Especially now.

For years, he was the voice of reason who entertained and comforted us every night at 11 p.m. And boy, we could really use some common sense right now.

It was Stewart who championed the passage of the bill five years ago when he had four 9-11 responders on his show. On Monday night, only one of those four were able to return. The other two were too ill, and the third one is dead.

It’s not easy to be a half-humorist half-political commentator who actually makes a difference in the world. With this blog, I make a difference in the one person’s life who accidentally stumbles across this site via a Google search.

And you know what? I’ll take it.

Last, nominations were revealed on Monday for the 57th Grammy Awards, which will take place Feb. 8. There were no major surprises; Taylor Swift’s 1989 is up for Album of the Year, which will naturally anger some people.

sufjan-stevens-10

And for those wondering, Adele was not eligible, hence her absence from the nominees list. But she’ll probably kill it in 2017.

But I must express my extreme displeasure with one egregious snub: Sufjan Stevens. His album, Carrie and Lowell, is without a doubt among the best of the year. And he got nothing.

Not many people are capable of delivering lyrics in such a haunting, soul-tickling manner like he can.

It’s a shame he wasn’t recognized on a national level, and it also deprives the general public from learning about a very talented artist.

Oh well. Sufjan, I see you. And you may never win music’s biggest prize, but, if it’s any consolation, allow me to bestow you with a WeinGrammy®.

For reference, it’s somewhere between a Video Music Award and a Kid’s Choice Award, and about equivalent in self-validation to a Tinder match.

Grammys 2015: it’s not an awards show unless Kanye makes his presence known

For a moment, visions of the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards flashed before everyone’s eyes. Kanye West, who, six years ago, infamously stole the spotlight from Taylor Swift to show his support for Beyonce, was about do it again.

After alternative rocker Beck was announced as the winner of Album of the Year at last night’s 57th Grammys, Kanye returned to the stage, only to jokingly wave his hands, laugh, and return to his seat. The audience got a kick out of it, Beck-Kanye-West-Grammysand even Beck took it in stride.

It was all in good fun. Kanye, who’s public image took a drastic hit after that initial incident — including being called a “jackass” by our president — had clearly learned from his mistake, and in a very self-aware moment, poked some fun at his old self. Even Beyonce and Jay Z found it amusing.

Or was he joking?

Had Kanye simply never opened his mouth again for the remainder of the night, people would still be laughing along with him. Instead, they’re none too pleased.

It turns out that he seriously believed that Beyonce deserved the award, and he wanted the world to know about it. In a post-show interview with E!, he said, “I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should’ve given his award to Beyonce.”

Fans of Beck have come out in full force to his defense. In a career that has spanned more than two decades, Beck has released 12 albums. He wrote, composed and produced his latest album, Morning Phase, and as one Twitter user pointed out, he played the guitar, keys, synthesizer, bass, tambourine, ukulele, charango, celeste, dulcimer, harmonica and the glockenspiel on it.

Kanye West can’t even spell half of those instruments.

Beck, meanwhile, has handled the situation flawlessly. Sam Smith Grammys

It’s just another incident on a long list of questionable decisions by Kanye West. There is absolutely no doubt of his artistry and talent. That’s undeniable, and any one who tries to discredit it is just wrong. I mean, there’s a reason that Paul McCartney wanted to work with him. He’s also won 21 Grammy awards.

But he continually butts his head into things that do not concern him. Beck won arguably the biggest award of his life last night, and Kanye had to grab some attention away. If he is so upset about how awards shows determine their winners, then he should start his own event. The Kanyes. Every award goes to Beyonce.

I think people are just sick of his shtick, and are especially upset that he tried to make his point by attacking Beck, who is as much of an artist as any one in the music industry today.

An unintended consequence of Kanye’s antics is that he has become a public relations wizard. By making himself look so bad, he makes his “victims” look like sympathetic heroes in comparison. Taylor Swift’s career catapulted to monumental levels of success following her rendezvous with Mr. West, and because of last night, Beck has never been more widely discussed on a mainstream level than he is right now.

Oh and for the record, Taylor and Kanye have since made up. 

On a personal note, some may recall I pegged Morning Phase as the best album of 2014. What’s ironic is that, for the last six years, I have posted here my top films of the year, and to date, none of my six selections for the year end best movie has ended up winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And yet, in my first year picking the year’s best albums, my top selection wins Album of the Year. Go figure.

And yes, I am humble bragging.

The rest of the Grammys was without drama, with Sam Smith taking home four awards, including Record of the Year. He Kristen Wiig Siagenuinely seems like a polite, cordial young man who is passionate about music, so I have no problem seeing him rewarded. Especially after the controversy he received from the Tom Petty copying fallout.

One pleasant surprise was seeing Kristen Wiig doing some interpretive dance with 12-year-old Maddie Zeidler during Sia’s performance of “Chandelier.” Wiig really is a multi-talented performer who doesn’t get enough love.

What nobody did see in last night’s telecast was Eminem win Best Rap Album for the Marshall Mathers LP, his 15th career Grammy, since it’s a category that’s apparently not deemed significant enough to be distributed live. I get that the Grammys are trying to become a bit more family-friendly, but isn’t that category a pretty big one?

Also, for the sixth straight year, I failed win the Grammy for Best Blogging.

I’m still petitioning the academy to instill that one.