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Sunday, February 12, 2017


The Grammys are taking place right now, but I don't watch. In the music business, what tends to rise to the top is not cream, but mediocrity. I am heartened that David Bowie has won four posthumous awards so far (he only won one while he was alive) which just makes me ask, "What were you waiting for, him to die?" I guess the answer is yes.

I've been looking at Grammy Award winners from the categories that are usually not awarded during the televised portion, but I'm going to end that with the winner from last year, 1989 by Taylor Swift (I will begin with tonight's winners in the coming weeks). Swift, who began as a virginal country singer, is now a megastar, and 1989 was the biggest selling album of 2014. She is one of the most famous people in the world, and seems to be friends with every model that walks a runway. But is her music any good?

1989 is named after the year she was born, and supposedly her lyrics are very personal (it is said that to break up with her is to get a song written about you). Her switch over to pop was probably a smart move, as country has its limits, and I'm guessing most of her listeners are girls or young women. Upon the first listen, I found her to be quite mediocre, but after a few more go-rounds I started liking a couple of the songs, but there is no circumstance that this could ever be considered to be the best album, out of thousands, produced in a year's time frame.

First of all, I personally don't like this style of dance-pop. Swift mentions Madonna and Annie Lennox in the liner notes, but it's more like Madonna (Lennox is much more interesting and subtle). There are many producers, but the sound is canned, and though drummers are credited it sounds like a drum machine--there are no solos of any merit, it kind of sounds like a karaoke machine.

Swift co-wrote all of the songs, and it's clear that at least a few are about her. The most obvious is "Shake It Off," which is also one of the best on the record.

"I stay up too late
Got nothing in my brain
That's what people say
That's what people say
I go on too many dates
But I can't make them stay
At least that's what people say
That's what people say
But I keep cruising
Can't stop, won't stop moving
It's like I got this music
In my mind, saying it's gonna be alright
Cause the players gonna play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate
Baby I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off"

This is nice way of responding to critics, without animosity and just positivity. I also like certain little touches, like the way she adds, "Mmm hmm" after "That's what people say" and a barely perceptible giggle after "I go on too many dates."

Another song that has a terrific hook is "Bad Blood," though the lyrics are more simple minded.

"Now we've got problems
And I don't think we can solve 'em
You made a really deep cut
And baby, now we've got bad blood, hey!"

There's not much of an attempt to rhyme here. Poems don't have to rhyme, songs should.

1989 is, as Larry David might say, "Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good." But it's not very ambitious, appeals to a low (but not the lowest) common denominator, and her winning a Grammy for it is more a thank you from music executives that someone can still sell records.

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