Movies dominate the winter entertainment awards season, but don’t forget the soundtrack of our lives. The 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, honoring the best the recording industry offered in 2009, will be given Sunday night. Three of The State Journal-Register's biggest music buffs — A&E editor Brian Mackey, staff writer Rhys Saunders and features editor Brien Murphy — listened to the nominees in some of the bigger categories and share how they would cast their ballots.
Movies dominate the winter entertainment awards season, but don’t forget the soundtrack of our lives.
The 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, honoring the best the recording industry offered in 2009, will be given Sunday night. Three of The State Journal-Register's biggest music buffs — A&E editor Brian Mackey, staff writer Rhys Saunders and features editor Brien Murphy — listened to the nominees in some of the bigger categories and share how they would cast their ballots. The Grammys will air Sunday at 7 p.m. on CBS.
(In the songwriting categories, the performer is listed in parentheses.)
Song of the Year (awarded to songwriter)
“Poker Face,” Lady Gaga & RedOne, songwriters (Lady Gaga)
“Pretty Wings,” Hod David & Musze, songwriters (Maxwell)
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” Thaddis Harrell, Beyoncé Knowles, Terius Nash & Christopher Stewart, songwriters (Beyoncé)
“Use Somebody,” Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill & Nathan Followill, songwriters (Kings of Leon)
“You Belong With Me,” Liz Rose & Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)
MACKEY: Taylor Swift, 20, may soon outgrow teenage longing, but that sweet spirit runs through “You Belong With Me.” “She wears high heels, I wear sneakers./She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers,” Swift sings. Sugary without being saccharine, “You Belong With Me” inspires empathy and tugs at nostalgia.
Best Pop Performance By a Duo or Group (awarded to performer)
“I Gotta Feeling,” Black Eyed Peas
“We Weren’t Born to Follow,” Bon Jovi
“Never Say Never,” The Fray
“Sara Smile,” Hall and Oates (from “Live at the Troubador”)
SAUNDERS: The Brooklyn duo MGMT has my vote with “Kids,” an infectious dance tune that plays to the best of old and new, meshing a synthesized counter-melody with organic vocals reminiscent of the 1960s. Yet it’s completely unto its own, and the duo has brought psychedelic pop music back to stereos and dance floors everywhere with the album “Oracular Spectacular.” It’s Bananarama meets the Beach Boys.
Best Male Pop Vocal Performance (awarded to performer)
“This Time,” John Legend
“Love You,” Maxwell
“Make It Mine,” Jason Mraz
“If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” Seal
“All About the Love Again,” Stevie Wonder
MURPHY: A tight race. Wonder could sing the phone book and make it work. The usually motormouthed Mraz let his easygoing tenor do the talking. But in terms of setting a mood and singing with emotion, my vote goes to Legend, whose performance is the sound of a heart trying not to break.
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (awarded to performer)
“Hometown Glory,” Adele
“Hot N Cold,” Katy Perry
“You Belong With Me,” Taylor Swift
MACKEY: Deep and smoky, Adele’s voice is more mature than it has any right to be. Her unadorned ode to her hometown is a welcome break from the effects-laden style that’s so popular among female pop singers. With “Hometown Glory,” Adele shows she’s at the vanguard of the retro-soul sound defined by artists such as Macy Gray, Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse.
Best Rock Song (awarded to songwriter)
“The Fixer,” Matt Cameron, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder, songwriters (Pearl Jam)
“I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr., songwriters (U2)
“21 Guns,” Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool, songwriters (Green Day)
“Use Somebody,” Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill and Nathan Followill, songwriters (Kings Of Leon)
“Working On A Dream,” Bruce Springsteen, songwriter (Bruce Springsteen)
SAUNDERS: Green Day’s anthem “21 Guns” is a stark departure from its 2004 album, “American Idiot.” It’s a potent dose of stadium rock, where singer/guitarist Billy Joe Armstrong lets loose, crossing musical boundaries by switching between his trademark nasal-punk vocals and a delicate falsetto during the song’s chorus. It was the tune that made you crank the radio’s volume every time you heard it this year.
Best Country Song (awarded to songwriter)
“All I Ask For Anymore,” Casey Beathard and Tim James, songwriters (Trace Adkins)
“High Cost of Living” Jamey Johnson and James Slater, songwriters (Jamey Johnson)
“I Run To You” Tom Douglas, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott, songwriters (Lady Antebellum)
“People Are Crazy” Bobby Braddock and Troy Jones, songwriters (Billy Currington)
“White Horse,” Liz Rose and Taylor Swift songwriters (Taylor Swift)
MURPHY: In a weak field — seriously, not one single uptempo country tune, Grammy nominators? — Swift again proves she is more in touch with the tricky emotions of love and romance than people twice her age. Her tale of a young woman who kisses off a bad boyfriend (“It’s too late for you and your white horse to catch me now”) was a more powerful line than anything in the other four songs combined.
Best R&B Song (awarded to songwriter)
“Blame It,” James T. Brown, John Conte, Jr., Jamie Foxx, Christopher Henderson, Brandon R. Melanchon, Terius Nash, Breyon Prescott, Christopher Stewart, T-Pain and Nathan L. Walker, songwriters (Jamie Foxx and T-Pain)
“Lions, Tigers and Bears,” Salaam Remi and Jazmine Sullivan, songwriters (Jazmine Sullivan)
“Pretty Wings,” Hod David and Musze, songwriters (Maxwell) “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” Thaddis Harrell, Beyoncé Knowles, Terius Nash and Christopher Stewart, songwriters (Beyoncé)
“Under,” Durrell Babbs, Joseph Bereal, Marcus Cooper, Antonio Dixon, Jerry Franklin, Thaj Jones, Robert Newt and Kristina Stephens, songwriters (Pleasure P)
SAUNDERS: Every time I hear Beyonce sing the words, “If you like it then you should have put a ring on it,” I can’t help but want to move. “Single Ladies” was a crossover hit that evoked the spirit of Motown and provided the catchiest hook we’d heard in quite some time. Yet despite the empowering message there’s a certain sad, timelessness to it.
Best Rap Song (awarded to songwriter)
“Best I Ever Had,” Dwayne Carter, Aubrey Drake Graham & Matthew Samuels, songwriters [Nakia S. Coleman & Danny Robert Hamilton, songwriters], (Drake)
“Day ‘N’ Nite,” S. Mescudi & O. Omishore, songwriters (Kid Cudi)
“Dead and Gone,” C. Harris, R. Tadross & J. Timberlake songwriters (T.I. & Justin Timberlake)
“D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” Shawn Carter & Ernest Wilson, songwriters [Gary DeCarlo, Dale Frashuer, Paul Leka, Janko Nilovic & Dave Sucky, songwriters], (Jay-Z)
“Run This Town,” Jeff Bhasker, Shawn Carter, Robyn Fenty, Kanye West & Ernest Wilson, songwriters [Athanasios Alatas, songwriter], (Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West)
MACKEY: The pitch-correction software Auto-Tune was used as an effect more than a decade ago on Cher’s “Believe,” but since then has gone from popular to cliché, warbling the voices on countless rap songs in the last two years. Jay-Z may be spitting in the wind, but his clever “D.O.A (Death of Auto-Tune)” celebrates authenticity in hip-hop: “This is anti-autotune, death of the ringtone/This ain’t for iTunes, this ain’t for sing-along.”
Best Gospel Song (awarded to songwriter)
“Born Again,” Tai Anderson, David Carr, Mark Lee and Mac Powell, songwriters (Third Day, Featuring Lacey Moseley)
“City On Our Knees,” Cary Barlowe, Toby McKeehan and Jamie Moore, songwriters (TobyMac)
“Every Prayer,” Dayna Caddell, Israel Houghton, Aaron Lindsey and Ricardo Sanchez, songwriters (Israel Houghton and Mary Mary)
“God In Me,” Erica Campbell, Tina Campbell and Warryn Campbell, songwriters (Mary Mary featuring Kierra “KiKi” Sheard)
“The Motions,” Jason Houser, Sam Mizell and Matthew West, songwriters (Matthew West)
MURPHY: The Grammys’ annual bare acknowledgement of Christian pop music puts rock, R&B, ballads and hip-hop in the same category, which makes comparisons unwieldy. But in terms of a good song, the winner here is “Every Prayer.” If praise music is supposed to praise, then this song left all the others in the dust. (“And he hears every prayer, for he has done great things and I believe he’s a God that always answers prayer.”)
Record of the Year (awarded to performer and producer)
“Halo,” Beyoncé. Beyoncé Knowles and Ryan Tedder, producers; Jim Caruana, Mark “Spike” Stent and Ryan Tedder, engineers/mixers
“I Gotta Feeling,” Black Eyed Peas. David Guetta and Frédéric Riesterer, producers; will.i.am, Dylan “3-D” Dresdow and Padraic “Padlock” Kerin, engineers/mixers
“Use Somebody,” Kings Of Leon. Jacquire King and Angelo Petraglia, producers; Jacquire King, engineer/mixer
“Poker Face,” Lady Gaga. RedOne, producer; Robert Orton, RedOne and Dave Russell, engineers/mixers
“You Belong With Me,” Taylor Swift. Nathan Chapman and Taylor Swift, producers; Chad Carlson and Justin Niebank, engineers/mixers
MACKEY: It’s hard to go wrong with a feel-good party song and even harder when it’s performed by the Black Eyed Peas, who could make a gold record out of a sneeze. “I Gotta Feeling” is trademark BEP, with the kind of beat that will bring wedding guests aged 8 to 80 onto the dance floor for decades to come.
SAUNDERS: Hands down, record of the year goes to Kings of Leon for “Use Somebody.” Its lush, symphonic sounds create a swelling sense beneath the forlorn majesty of a song that could just as easily be played on a single acoustic guitar. Yet without the production value, the emotion of this song would easily be one-dimensional rather than torn and disparaged, sonically showcasing the many faces of desperation.
MURPHY: “Poker Face” was overproduced — know when to hold back. “I Gotta Feeling” loses points for its use of Auto-Tune, the worst recording trend of the millennium. Beyonce’s angelic voice was perfect for “Halo,” and the stop-and-start production elevated this simple song above “You Belong With Me” and “Use Somebody.”