I’ve brought back my annual awards show. First up, music!
Most Excellence in Having a Voice that Makes You… OMG THAT VOICE
Daughn Gibson, Me Moan. He’s doing this impossibly sexy slowed-down-Cash thing, while looking like a Black Irish cowboy, all with songs that have alt-country, alt-rock, chill-out twist. It’s hypnotic, and it’s awesome.
Most Excellence in Focus Grouped, Lowest Common Denominator Pop
Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball.” The song was created in a lab, which is why it’s so goddamn catchy. Cyrus delivers the emotion better than anyone doing Dr. Luke’s stuff, but this video is all about its director Terry Richardson’s perversion. Both were suddenly iconic, but the song is epic.
Also: The Gregory Brother, “Wrecking Ball.” This countrified version recorded by the great satirist collective shows just how well constructed the tune is. Labs get things done.
And, also: Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop (Acoustic, SNL).” The original video for the song is so bonkers and her performance of the song at the VMAs was so bonkers that Cyrus did this down-tempo acoustic version to show just how good it could be. Or that’s why I think she did it.
Most Excellence in Pseudo Proletariat Pop
Lorde, “Royals.” The song is gorgeous and its lyrics are so very pointed, but as released by one of the largest entertainment conglomerates on earth with a marketing campaign straight out of Urban Outfitters, it’s a bit disingenuous. That faux socialist Bill de Blasio played it as his victory song and then hired Bill Bratton and Goldman Sachs employees for his administration just makes it all the more, well, faux.
Most Excellence in Party Albums
Disclosure, Settle. Call some friends, break open a beer, put the thing on, and dance, dance, dance.
Most Excellence in Genre Confusing, Banjo Banging, Dance Thudding Anthems
Avicii, “Wake Me Up.” Merging two of the big trends in pop music — neo-bluegrass and thudding Euro-pop — and making it way too good. Though my friend Lance says this is the worst song ever recorded. So, there’s that.
Most Excellence in Getting Grossed Out While Singing Along
Lady Gaga and R. Kelly, “Do What U Want.” This is the best song, un-over-the-top and dirrty and fun, on Gaga’s subpar ARTPOP and unfortunately it involves the reprehensible serial rapist R. Kelly.
Most Excellence in Telling It Like It Is
Brandy Clark, “Pray to Jesus.” Country for both the traditionalists and the sardonic taste-makers. The whole album is delightful.
Most Excellence in Musical Theater Narrative and Emotion with Poppy Sheen
Pink and Nate Ruess, “Just Give Me A Reason.” This seems lifted from a very good pop musical — a book song at that. It tells a story and they deliver the lyrics in full character.
Most Excellence in Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake, “Suit & Tie.” This is the best song on a damn fine, damn weird album.
Most Excellence in Poor Enunciation, Weird Lyrics, and Misheard Racism
New Politics, “Harlem.” It sounds very wrong. The lyrics are “bad girl” and it sounds like “black girl.” Or maybe “bad girl up in Harlem” is code for black girl. I’m so confused. Especially since the song is such great dance rock.
Most Excellence in Singles, Top 5
Arcade Fire, “Reflektor.” When I first heard it, my jaw hung open and I hit replay, and then again, and again. It’s disco rock, but it’s raw and weird and revelatory.
Daft Punk and Pharrell, “Get Lucky.” The best song to get dressed to before going out since Madonna’a “Express Yourself,” it’s a deliberate throwback to late 70s, complete with Nile Rogers of Chic on guitar.
Kanye West, “Black Skinhead.” It’s co-produced by Daft Punk, along with a dozen other people, and it puts forth Kanye’s utterly warped rhymes and ideology. It’s bonkers and amazing.
Janelle Monae and Eryka Badu, “Q.U.E.E.N.” There are so many things going on in this song, and I don’t think I understand half of them. But it’s epic, innovative, funny, gorgeous, and you can really dance to it.
London Grammar, “Strong.” Achingly beautiful.
Most Excellence in Albums, Top 5
Arcade Fire, Reflektor. It’s still not as good as Funeral, their best album, but Reflektor is the first time they’ve moved in a new direction. Granted, the direction is mostly in a faster, louder drumbeat (or a computer approximation of one), but in doing so, along with lyrical and song structure decisions and, it seems, a populist ambition, Arcade Fire has made its most accessible album.
Beyoncé, Beyoncé. She dropped this without any publicity and to the shock and delight of millions, and it’s clearly her best album yet. She’s been listening to a lot fo the Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and Florence & The Machine, and smoking a lot of weed, and SHAZAM, it’s gorgeous, weird, and totally relevant.
David Bowie, The Next Day. He could have released this in 1977, when just about everything he touched turned to gold, or at least gold paint and glitter. His voice warbles more and the technical aspects of the production are different, but the songs are edgy rock genius. Also, this video is amazing.
The Great Gatsby: Music from Baz Luhrmann’s Film. Jay-Z’s collection of songs for Baz Luhrmann’s mostly great movie is an incredibly smart, often gleeful, and totally artistic collage of new, old, and post-modern contrast. Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” is the heart of the film, but the use of Jay-Z’s own “$100 Bill,” Jack White’s cover of “Love Is Blindness,” and Coco O’s “Where the Wind Blows” are all used to great dramatic purpose, and as part of an album, they (and the 10 other songs) work, too.
Rhye, Woman. It’s so smooth, so hypnotic, and so beautiful, it’s hard to believe.