As last night's surprise BAFTA win for "Skyfall" demonstrated, this year's Best Original Score Oscar could go just about any way this year -- partly because the Academy's ever-peculiar music branch skipped over some of the year's most acclaimed work when assembling the nominees, and partly because the field that remains is stacked with admired names, only two of whom have won before. One of those is Dario Marianelli, whose score for "Anna Karenina" could benefit from being the most ornate in the category. In a nicely timed showcase, Marianelli will be celebrated next week at the Dublin Film Festival, where the RTE Concert Orchestra will perform a programme of his work selected by Marianelli himself, including "Karenina," "Pride and Prejudice," "V for Vendetta," "The Brothers Grimm," the Oscar-winning "Atonement" and my own favorite of his, "Jane Eyre." Any Irish readers going? [JDIFF]
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LOS ANGELES -- Nothing elicited more self-conscious laughter from a live audience at the 2013 Grammy Awards than during the pre-telecast ceremony, when Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne won two honors for the song "Niggas in Paris." As is his custom at the Grammys, West was absent. But so was another element to this winner's circle: the full name of the song itself.
As it was announced, the term "Niggas" was bleeped out, as the censors would "f*ck" or "sh*t," and it sounded awkwardly funny, especially considering the accolade.
On Watch the Throne's release materials, like the tracklist, the title uses "Niggas." On the VEVO and YouTube video pages, "Ni**as." On the Grammy.com and to the night's attendees, "N*****."
To the Grammy voter, there may be more than just that term that remains unspoken.
As I mentioned in HitFix's Best and Worst tally, there's still residual racial underpinnings to the Grammys' top prizes. Song, Record and Album of the Year went to white artists (though Janelle Monae was the guest artist on fun.'s "We Are Young"); Best New Artist went to a white artist. Acts like Miguel and Frank Ocean were nominated for their turns at R&B crossover tracks and albums, but hip-hop went unrecognized in these lauded categories in 2013.
And despite earning nominations for these most-prestigious categories before, West has never won one, though he's collected 18 Grammys outside of Song/Record/Album Of The Year, mostly in the rap categories. To the producer, songwriter and rhymer, it's a matter of black and white (music), which is why in part he chose not to attend the ceremony this year.
"Eighteen Grammys, all in the black categories, though," West said during a solo concert in December. "I love Maroon 5, but when I lost Best New Artist to Maroon 5 … y'know what I mean? Or when 'Watch the Throne' and '[My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy],' neither of them got nominated for Album of the Year, y'know what I mean? Or when 'Niggas in Paris' didn't get nominated for Record of the Year, y'know what I mean? So don't expect to see me at the Grammys this year, you know what I mean?"
Kanye West doesn't bleep out the name of his own song when he says it aloud. And it's worth discussing that this is the first time in Grammys history that the term "n***a" has shown up for a nomination.
Of course, there were mountains of other hip-hop songs and albums worthy of top prizes, many of which don't use the term "n***a" in their title or otherwise. But the word is still popular and frequent in hip-hop vernacular with an implied "restricted usage." It's been adopted or "reclaimed" by some African-Americans, refused by others, and problematic overall within other races, classes and even between genders.
"Despite the false idea that we now live in a color blind society, racism still exists. And when Black rappers use the word they are like Beyoncé at the last Inauguration, lip syncing what many white folks in this country wish they could say out loud," wrote AllHipHop's TRUTH Minista Paul Scott last week on the term's Grammy appearance. "Perhaps most disturbing is that by rewarding such ignorance, it helps to legitimize the usage of the work in the eyes of White Americans."
Maya Angelou was publicly at-odds with Common a couple years ago over his use of the word "n***a" for the track "The Dreamer," on which the famed poet was featured. The rapper said the two agreed to disagree, that not only was the term “a part of me,” but that the song's accomplishment was generational. “I wanted young people to hear this and feel like they could really accomplish their dreams.”
The "acceptable usage" of "black" terminology and the hip-hop artform was the center of discussions this winter, as year-end lists were released and "violent rap" albums like Chief Keef's "Finally Rich" impressed "white" outlets like Pitchfork and Spin. Rap Radar's Brian "B.Dot" Miller shot back through Tweets like “please stop writing about MY culture,” and compared white critics' high marks of black music as promoting minstrelsy. He expounded further on his position during a recent New York Times popcast, which you should enjoy here.
The "otherness" of the term "n***a" and rap as a "black" artform is absolutely deserving of a similar conversation, as hip-hop's predominant influence on popular music for the last two decades obviously hasn't relieved the creative tensions in the ranks of informed voters at the Recording Academy. The conflict of colorization is the reason why this website and others can't (and, to some, absolutely shouldn't) spell the complete term "Niggas" in a headline, nor allow the word spoken at the Grammy Awards by a professional announcer, or give greater pause to white journalists and music lovers like myself as I urge voters to reconsider any bias that puts a higher value on "white" music than black music.
The control and fear of a single word can sometimes overpower the clout of great artists like Jay-Z and West, and not just because of any over-intellectual hand-wringing. The subtle and (literally) unspoken lines of inclusion/exclusion are how the art from people of color is quietly, frequently and wrongly shuffled into the "safe" racial categories to stay. If the Grammys neuters power -- positive or negative -- from terms like "n****", then it's more than just a laughing matter.
LOS ANGELES - By the time the presentation for album of the year came around at the end of the Grammy Awards, Mumford & Sons had long given up any notion that they might win, despite the fact that most critics had predicted “Babel” would take home the prize.
LOS ANGELES - Unlike last year when it was clear that Adele would sweep the Grammys, deservedly so, this year's race was much harder to call. Even so, as the night unfurled, it seems clear that some calls were a little off base. Here are five categories where the Grammy voters picked a worthy candidate, but not the best one. There were no major gaffes this year, but there was certainly room for improvement.
This was probably Roger Deakins's last opportunity to make some noise with "Skyfall," my personal pick for the year's best cinematography. Well, he won the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Award for his work on the film, staving off his winless streak at the Oscars just a bit.
We're closing in on the end of "Downton Abbey" (the Christmas episode airs next week!), so it's no surprise that many story lines are getting wrapped up in tonight's two-hour episode before the show leaps forward in time by a full year. The result? Some are grand, some are jarring, and some really don't make a lot of sense. More than any other episode, I think this one is a mixed bag and sometimes seems slapdash (and soapy) in its execution. But for the lows (and there are quite a few), some of the big moments give our stars moments to truly shine. It's always great when someone other than Maggie Smith (not that we don't love her, by the way) gets a pithy line or an unexpected character flaw, and that's definitely in evidence this week. I can't overlook the stinkers, but there's enough good stuff here that I might soon forget them.
LOS ANGELES -- Longtime dance artist and voting Recording Academy member Kaskade had some strong words for his colleagues at the Grammy Awards tonight. He was among the nominees (and presenters), but appealed to the show organizers: bring the Best Dance Recording and Dance/Electronica Album honors to the primetime telecast, and not continue to sequester it to the pre-telecast ceremony.
"We're selling more tickets than any other artists out there. And I feel like it's our time to move into the primetime now. It's a slow evolution," he told reporters backstage at the Grammys. The Academy "has really embraced us... There's a lot of us out there."
So it's time to for EDM artists to "move from Nokia to the big room."
And while he feels that the 2013 awards have represented dance artists and dance music "better than ever," Kaskade did address the disruptive inclusion of Al Walser among the Dance Recording nominees. Walser -- little-known to U.S. listeners outside of Grammy365 social network users -- nabbed a spot next to names like Skrillex and Calvin Harris due to his lobbying efforts directly to voters through the online program.
"The Grammys are putting in the necessary means that nothing like that ever happens again, that it really truly does reflect what's happening, that it's not somebody's friend that squeaked by," he said. "It felt very forced. No one was really aware of who [Walser] was and what was going on. It wasn't a representation of what was actually happening with the music and our world. It was kind of out of left field."
A representative from Walser's camp was present in the press area and tried defending Walser as deserving of the nod.
"No one's refuting that [Walser] works hard," Kaskade countered, adding a little dig: "The space suit was a good touch."
Kaskade, instead, encourages the listening habits of voters to influence their opinions. "They need to listen to the music. I'm a voting member myself. People who take it seriously should take the time out to listen to the music."
The producer and DJ has the credentials to back up his thoughts, and will be adding to his catalog with a new album this year. He is in the "final stages" with the set and will release it in late spring or early summer, with a new tour starting next month.
This year marked his first nomination for a Grammy Award, even with seven albums behind him. He said now, at least, there's a few EDM songs on the radio, even though dance music has been "picking up steam for 20 years."
"We're all in amazement that we're here. Dance music was big a decade ago and didn't have any [Grammy] categories."
After the Grammys laid down the law about what could and could not be worn to the show ("no thong type costumes" or "bare fleshy under curves of the buttocks and buttock crack" and the mysterious edict, "be sure that the genital region is adequately covered so that there is no visible 'puffy' bare skin exposure"), it was anyone's guess how the red carpet would look this year. The good news? There was still plenty of skin to be seen, and none of it should upset the Grammys at all. Whether or not the clothing provided more than coverage is up to debate. Here's a look at what Jennifer Lopez, Adele, Faith Hill, Rihanna, Beyonce, and more wore to music's big event.
"The Walking Dead" is back from its mid-season hiatus, and I have a review of tonight's episode coming up just as soon as I'm the first brother in history that breaks into prison...
A quick review of tonight's "Enlightened" coming up just as soon as we go back to my place in Yucaipa...
In the first year that BAFTA switched to the Academy's system of letting the entire membership vote across most categories, we had every reason to expect their customary quirks to disappear with branch-specific voting. Gone are days, probably, of "Mulholland Drive" winning for Best Film Editing, or Pedro Almodovar taking Best Director for "All About My Mother," as BAFTA increasingly settles into its assumed role as one more Oscar-minded precursor.
But wait -- not so fast. Where they could merely have checked off every consensus favorite from the season thus far, BAFTA threw in enough individual choices to suggest they're at least as keen on guiding Oscar voters to viable alternatives as they are in merely guessing their taste. Some of their choices, meanwhile, were merely about celebrating their own industry: witness the Best British Film award for people's favorite "Skyfall," which, as I mentioned in my review, is really its own kind of British heritage film. (They could, after all, have gone with "Les Miserables," which nonetheless ended the night with the most trophies of any film.)
A review of tonight's "Girls" coming up just as soon as I play the body drums...