2016 Gold Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Music

It’s that time of year again: late mid-February, about six week after most professionals have published their Best of [insert year] lists and I finally get around to doing my annual music awards.

I spent a lot of time alone this year, because I became single and, for the first time in my life, moved into my own apartment, sans roommate. A bunch of stuff I liked, or was drawn to, drew me in because I was feeling lonely — or giddy with independence. Or it just had a good beat and I could dance to it.

This year, I’ve made a playlist on Spotify, so you can listen along to the full list of songs I loved last year, not just the winners of the weird categories I made up.

Most Excellence in Dadaism

It’s a tie!

Drake, “Hotline Bling.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxpDa-c-4Mc[/embedyt]

No one can deny that Drake’s mega hit is the year’s ear worm of doom, and it’s an awesome one, only partly because the video was instantly iconic in mixing high art light sculpture with hip hop tropes and a heavy dose of WTF dancing. But the lyrics and structure sound like e. e. cummings got dissed by a phone sex operator and then smoked a really huge bowl. Hilarious, awesome.

Weezer, “Thank God for Girls.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJMruBJfhNM[/embedyt]

I fell in love with Weezer 20 years ago, and have remained an apologist after they became uncool, because of the Blue Album‘s perfect blend of polished grunge and ironic, witty, and delightfully odd lyrics. (The videos were icing.) “Thank God for Girls” is as a batshit crazy as “Pork and Beans” and as catchy as “Beverly Hills.” It’s a underheard song, and delightful in its retro, childlike heterosexuality.

Most Excellence in Spine-Chilling Nostalgic Ennui

It’s a tie!

Jeffrey Foucault, “Des Moines.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w46hwtgdJq8[/embedyt]

Jeffrey Foucault (pronounced incorrectly as Foh-calt) is a hotter, deeper, bluesier Bill Morrissey, and this could be his best song, a remembrance of a gig and a friendship in Iowa. When he sings at the crescendo, “We walked in like a rock and roll band,” I fell in love with the reflexive, probably revisionist, joy.

“Painting” from Fortress of Solitude.[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyheDip0hW8[/embedyt]

In order to transition several years of the 1970s in Fortress of Solitude, Abraham Ebdus (Ken Barnet) sings about all of the things that happened, major historical and emotional events, and how he ignored them while he painted. There’s subsumed anger and grief, and I wept in the theater the first time I heard it.

Most Excellence in Coincidence

Adam Lambert, “Ghost Town.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix8ocFEMa1o[/embedyt]

Adam Lambert’s version came out first, and it’s gorgeous, weird, innovative, and I found it thrilling. I’m a huge Lambert fan and I feel I’m sometimes an apologist for his super poppy corporate stuff. But this is nothing anyone should apologize for. Unless you’re apologizing for not liking it.

Madonna, “Ghost Town.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgDxv0Qg_Rg[/embedyt]

Madonna’s isn’t as great, but it’s a good catchy ballad. True, it’s got that kind of guarded metaphor-as-emotion thing that a lot of her slow stuff suffers from, unlike “HeartBreakCity,” which is raw. But I was going through a terrible time when it came out, and it got under my skin. And Rebel Heart is easily her best album since Confessions on the Dance Floor or, less easily but arguably, since Music.

Most Excellence in Emotional Wreckage.

Adele, “Hello.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQHsXMglC9A[/embedyt]

Yeah. The day it was released, I had an uncontrollable urge to revisit every one of my previous relationships. Now that it’s become so embedded in the culture and parodied relentlessly, it has less power, but that weekend was tough.

Most Excellence in Barnstorming Pop.

Demi Lovato, “Cool for the Summer.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il9nqWw9W3Y[/embedyt]

I love a good call for sexual adventure, even if it’s paint-by-nunbers corporate pop sung by a Disney vet. Because sometimes, it’s this damn thrilling.

Most Excellence in Singles: My Top 5 (or, rather, 6)

Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRK7PVJFbS8[/embedyt]

I must admit, I didn’t quite know for some time what this song was about other than swag and ego, and since Kendrick Lamar is lyricist of subtlety and depth I doubt that swag and ego is what it’s actually about. So, I Googled. Oh, it is about swag and ego, but the reference to Kunte Kinte to express empowerment, struggle, and growth makes it a bit subtler, and perhaps ironic, than, say, Kanye West’s “Power.” Also, King Kunta is funky as hell, with a rhythm, both in Lamar’s usual flow and in the bass line, that is irresistible as hell.

Alabama Shakes, “Gimme All Your Love.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sNNTpORtDQ[/embedyt]

This is an epic love song that actually sounds like being in love, that painful, hungry kind if love. It’s astonishing.

Shamir, “On the Regular” and “Make a Scene.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp9GgdCgMXk[/embedyt]
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq4DumzwmlY[/embedyt]

Shamir’s was the best live show I saw in 2015, and not just because it was surprising that this 21-year-old super-gay rapper on a promo tour could control a room like he Springsteen. Okay, that was a lot of it. But the songs are thrilling, too, with the double whammy of these two singles. The lyrics are quite insightful for a teenager, but they’re also funny as hell. And gay. Gayyyy.

Courtney Barnett, “Elevator Operator.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sZxnyn6mRY[/embedyt]

This rollicking song is a short story about a young man named Oliver Paul who decides to play hooky from his job one morning. When he takes an elevator to the roof of a tall building with a rich old lady, she thinks he’s planning to commit suicide. Oh, no:

He said “I think you’re projecting the way that you’re feeling
I’m not suicidal, just idling insignificantly
I come up here for perception and clarity
I like to imagine I’m playing SimCity
All the people look like ants from up here
And the wind’s the only traffic you can hear

Courtney Barnett is some weird Aussie rock version of Raymond Carver.

Jamie xx, “Loud Places.”[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP9luRtEqjc[/embedyt]

This is singer-songwriter electronica at its best. It’s just perfectly beautiful, musically complex, and epic. A true work of art.

Most Excellence in Albums: My Top 5

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-nr1nNC3ds[/embedyt]

I already said it: Aussie rocker Raymond Carver. She’s the heir to Liz Phair, Bruce Springsteen, and, hell, Peter Carey. I love the hell out of this revelatory album.

Chris Stapleton, Traveller.[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqUx-WDL-Pc[/embedyt]
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FM_Xh5xPnmo[/embedyt]

Aside from being sex on a stick, Chris Stapleton itelegraphs authenticity, as if he’s the love child of Johnny Cash and, well, Jeffrey Foucault. Authenticity as marketing tool is sort of the definition of inauthentic (Bernie Sanders, cough) but sometimes it’s compelling. Especially when it sounds like a country-rock god singing about stuff that is not trucks, guns, hometowns, or beer.

Ryan Adams, 1989.[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i65kX8cnswg[/embedyt]
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSyus3HlQPI[/embedyt]

Taylor Swift’s 1989 is a damn fine pop album, but as reinterpreted by Ryan Adams, the songs develop a depth of emotion that her producers — Max Martin, et al. — made sure they couldn’t have, since depth of emotion doesn’t quite work on Top 40 stations, unless it’s Adele. His versions are so smart, gorgeous, and serious, I grew even more impressed by Swift’s lyrics. And then she did acoustic versions of the songs, and, well, she should do that more often.

Liane La Havas, Blood.[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNLkD8QEnAM[/embedyt]
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFic-xaLsPs[/embedyt]

I loved Lianne’s first album, which is beautiful, if quiet. But Blood is not quiet at all; it’s sexy and fun and beautiful and it rocks and, hey, the President loves it, too. Every song is great. Period.

Carly Rae Jepson, Emotion.[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeccAtqd5K8[/embedyt]
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlFMVzo9zuE[/embedyt]

This is my second favorite Taylor Swift album of the year, after Ryan Adams’s. Weirdly under-appreciated by radio, it’s an album of masterful pop songs that sit firmly in Swift’s genre but seem, somehow, better. Maybe it’s because Swift’s personality is so huge that she overshadows the music. Anyway, Jepson doesn’t have that celebrity profile, and the songs become more universal. It was album was the soundtrack of my summer. Fun as hell.

[30 Day Song Challenge] Day 15: A Song That Describes Me

I didn’t know what to do with this one, so I crowd-sourced it. The suggestions made on Facebook were all pretty amazing — as either ridiculous or sublime — and I kept waiting for more, which is why I didn’t end up posting last night. So, my apologies for the three people who have been following the Challenge regularly. Some of the songs that were suggested were actually so good that I feel embarrassed to associate them with me or my, uh, subjectivity. And some were just hilariously wrong, like the two suggested by my husband. So, here’s what my friends came up with:

Chris H. suggested the Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring.” I don’t if I can live up to this one.

Brock S. suggested Badly Drawn Boys’ “Silent Sigh.” Wow.

Adia B. simply wrote “young gifted and black.” I know I can’t live up to this one.

Rob suggested “There’s No Business Like [the] Show Business” and “Mad World.” WTF? I am not a crazy show queen! The “[the]” is in reference to my weird habit of including an extra “the” in the song when I sing it. (Oh, wait. Crazy. Show queen. Hmm.) I don’t remember why I started doing that. There’s some inside joke that is now so inside it’s become a black hole. Anyway, I chose the disco version of the first song, which is the definition of awesomesauce, and the Gary Jules version of the second. Adam Lambert’s version is better but not embeddable.

Jason F. wrote “‘Gideon’ by My Morning Jacket, or ‘Camel Toe’ by Fannypack.” Sublime and ridiculous, respectively.

Tom W.: “the song that comes to mind is ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ by Taco.” I don’t even know what to say. Anyway, I’m embedding the uncensored version. Guess what was deleted from the video when it ran on MTV.

Karen V-S suggested “American Badass” by Kid Rock. Um, no.

And Amy H. continued the irony with by suggesting “I Want To Be Evil” by Eartha Kitt.

The 2010 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Music


It’s that time of year again!

You like the new logo? I do. It’s based on the Lumibär bear lamp, which you can buy for me here.

I’m a radio listener and an EW reader and have rather poppy tastes, so my list is pretty obscurity-free. If you want to go well beyond the beaten path, here are Altered Zones’s list and Pitchfork.com’s Top 200 Tracks and Top 50 Albums of 2010, which mixes some stuff you’ve heard of with a whole lot of stuff you haven’t. And watch for the Village Voice’s music blog, which polls the critics.

Most Excellence in Wrongness

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX15Le48jLs]“The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” by Tegan and Sara. I heard this on NPR last week in a review of the Christmas song collection Gift Wrapped II: Snowed In. I think the songwas meant to be twee, but Tegan and Sara’s somewhat flat delivery makes it just creepy. Granted, it’s not as creepy or wrong as the entire oeuvre of the Chipmunks.

Most Excellence in Creepy Topical-But-True-ness

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uelHwf8o7_U]“Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna. The 2010 “My Name Is Luka,” “Love the Way You Lie” became the Official Serious Song of the Year by being, yes, insanely catchy and well-made and about domestic violence, but also by having the current most famous victim of domestic violence sing the hook. Rihanna, who thankfully has emerged by her poisonous relationship with Chris Brown as an even bigger and better star, sings that searing, haunting chorus with way too much wink and wisdom. Watching her do it in the extraordinary and oddly hot (heh) video makes it clear she knows exactly what she’s doing and what it all means. Also, Eminem’s rapping on this song is fucking awesome.

Most Excellent Use of the Words “Ohio” and “Bees” in a Lyric

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfySK7CLEEg]“Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National. “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees” is simply one of the great lyrics ever. I have no idea what this song is about, and the video is just as opaque. Two of the comments on YouTube discuss possibilities: “The director’s instructions appear to have been ‘act like you’re 70 and maybe a little bit drunk.'” And: “Private eye Matt sets out to solve the murder of a wealthy heiress but gets distracted by a lovely park, some booze and a neat song. Finally he’s fired from the case and does a little dance.” “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is my favorite song on The National’s “High Violet,” which came out this year and didn’t do what “Boxer” had a few years ago. It underwhelmed, mostly because, I think, it didn’t take the band anywhere new. It’s good, but it’s not a revelation.

Most Excellence in Autotune for Good

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbZcYy6AAGg]“Umbrella/Singin’ In the Rain” by the Cast of Glee, but mostly Gwyneth Paltrow and Matthew Morrison. Aside from being inconsistent in its quality, and inconsistent in its characterizations, perhaps the biggest complaint about Glee is the extraordinary overuse of autotune to correct the pitch of the majority of the singers and their singing. I assume that this is done mostly because there simply isn’t enough rehearsal time to get these songs right; they’re making a 40-minute musical in 10 days, and that’s hard work. Of course, the seasoned Broadway pros like Lea Michelle, Matthew Morrison, and guest stars like Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel don’t sound like they’ve been altered. They can sing on pitch at will. But not so much Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, and guest stars like Gwyneth Paltrow. Some people loathed Gwyneth’s episode, but I’m with the many who loved it. And I loved what they did with this number. It’s ingenious, even if it is mostly an engineering marvel.

Most Excellence in Using Autotune for Evil

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cn1XTUyzBB0]Taylor Swift. All you need to know about how much of Taylor Swift’s actual voice appears on her recordings can be found in this terrifying live performance, a duet with a clearly astonished Stevie Nicks. I won’t embed an actual Taylor Swift song, because they make my head hurt.

Most Excellence in Not Being But Sounding A Lot Like the Strokes

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY–Yu4kzz0]“Animal” by Neon Trees. When I first heard this song, I thought that the Strokes had gotten back together and started working with Dr. Luke or something. It’s super poppy but the lead singer sounds like Julian Casablancas and the guitars are soooo New York in 2001. Rockin’.

Most Excellence in Gummy Bears, Whipped Cream, and Snoop Dogg

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F57P9C4SAW4]“California Gurls” by Katy Perry. I loathed Katy Perry, and then this song warmed my heart. Even though it’s pretty clear that the real California is not much of a dream anymore, this insanely joyful, giddy, ridiculous song just makes me happy. And there’s the video. WTF. Dancing gummy bears, whipped cream cone bras, and a pimped out Snoop Dogg make it one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. I have no idea what the Candyland stuff has to do with California, but whatevs.

Most Excellence in Channeling James Brown

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwnefUaKCbc]“Tightrope” by Janelle Monae. This is the best dance video in, like, forever. Well, okay, since “Single Ladies,” which really isn’t that long ago. But this is a much more populist video; it’s about dancing for your life and your sanity, while “Single Ladies” is about Beyonce and her backup dancers being amazing. I mean: Dude. Look at them go. You just gotta love Miss Monae. Her album is a schizophrenic wonder-wheel, and this is the best tune by far. What a freaky genius.

Most Excellence in Being a Most Excellent Album

My top five:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpsTxeYFJrY]Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson: Original Cast Recording by Michael Friedman. Okay, yeah, Michael is one of my best friends, but I’m not one to promote my friends’ work unless it’s damn good. This is rock musical at its best: The show is the most subversive and relevant piece of theater I’ve seen in God-knows-how-long, and Michael’s music and lyrics are hilarious, brainy, catchy, profound, and often much more moving than you could possibly imagine a post-modern comedy about Andrew Jackson could be.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pZkZguPAPs]Gorilla Manor by Local Natives. Exquisite harmonies, melodies, and guitar work. It’s sorta perfect. I heard that our local show, which I missed because it sold out while I was waiting for someone to decided whether to go with me, took a turn for the douche, but I’m not one to refuse love for a band because of its fans.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBhdIcb84Hw]The Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green. Pop/soul deliciousness.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uayey2PSGpA]My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. The lyrics are Allen Ginsburg meets Richard Pryor, and the music is perhaps the apex of post-modern musical pastiche, and the whole thing is some sort of insane, ego-fighting-the-id masterpiece. Also, it’s a party album. Team Kanye.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0L6ZFhZVOx0]The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. I don’t think The Suburbs is better than Arcade Fire’s previous albums Funeral and Neon Bible, but it’s still one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, easily. I don’t think any other band is making big, important, dense, and political albums like Arcade Fire, which is simply the best rock act making records right now. Like Neon Bible, The Suburbs isn’t really fun; it can be a tad depressing, since the subjects of the songs are things like sprawl and ennui. But in its darkness, it’s engrossing and populist and beautiful and mostly superbly crafted, like a Scorsese movie.

Five Most Excellent Honorably Mentioned Albums

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e0u11rgd9Q]Contra by Vampire Weekend. More of the same — as in awesome, smart, African-beated rock and roll — from my favorite nerds.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCo-U6war6c]Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You. by Lightspeed Champion. I think I’m the only person I know who knows who this guy is. Well, me and my brother, who gave me the album. Brit pop-rock (and he’s American!), FTW.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHv0jW4p_xA]Night Work by Scissor Sisters. Disco! Disco! Disco!

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5gQidrzojU]This Is Happening! by LCD Soundsystem. No one fuses electronica and rock better than James Murphy, and his lyrics are as funny as they are surprisingly poetic.

Most Excellence in Being a Most Excellent Song

My top five, in alphabetical order:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4306i99LMXo]“Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. It’s hipster folkies embodying Johnny and June Carter Cash. If you don’t love this song, you have no soul.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLJf9qJHR3E]“Little Lion Man” by Mumford & Sons. I like to pretend that this song is about the end of a gay relationship, but it’s probably not. Still, it’s a sing-along, banjo-stomp, folk-rock masterpiece, and it’s made these guys big stars. Yay!

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X23xo0Htl8]“The Saddest Song” by Ben Walker and the cast of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Even though this is very much a “book” song, it’s searing; if you replaced the historical specifics of the 1830s with some stuff from, say, the last year, the song could be about Obama. And it’s catchy, to say the least. And it has just a dab of Evita-ish rhythms to get at the queen in me.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98WtmW-lfeE][youtube:”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E46BhMIRujI”]“Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry, as performed by both Perry and Darren Criss on “Glee.” I think this is the best pop song of the year. It’s about joy and nostalgia and love. And sex. And when Darren Criss sang it on Glee — brilliantly, and better than Perry, and with an a capella back-up — it became a teen fantasy for every gay kid who ever struggled, alone and dejected, through high school. If only I’d been serenaded by someone like Criss, or, hell, just someone…

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1Fqn9du7xo]“Whataya Want From Me?” by Adam Lambert. Written by Pink and performed by Lambert like the song is eating his soul, it’s the best track on For Your Entertainment and a damn awesome fighting-with-your-lover song.

Five Most Excellent Honorably Mentioned Singles

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xT6cdfP_cM]“Drunk Girls” by LCD Soundsystem. Hilarious.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc0mxOXbWIU]“Fuck You” by Cee Lo. Also hilarious. Not hilarious: The wretched “clean” version of the song where “fuck” is replaced with “forget.” Hideous. Fuck the FCC.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SR6iYWJxHqs]“Grenade” by Bruno Mars. Now that’s love.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouwCWDbBskU]“POWER” by Kanye West. Gadzooks. Now that’s how to produced a hip-hop song. Insane.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdUvaIV0t7E]“Schizophrenia” by Jukebox the Ghost. Ben Folds on speed. Fabulous. I wholeheartedly agree with the commenter on YouTube who wrote, “Why doesn’t this have a gajillion views already? It’s better than sex.”


A couple people pointed out some stuff that I should have included. I listened, thought, and agreed.


[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcNo07Xp8aQ]Body Talk by Robyn. Robyn put out three albums this year, Body Talk Part 1, Body Talk Part 2, and Body Talk Part 3, also known simply as Body Talk, and this last one compiles the best stuff from Parts 1 and 2 along with a few new tunes. I was underwhelmed by 1 and 2; there were some great songs, but there was also some filler that bored me. I didn’t know about Part 3 until my friend Allen told me about it after this post went up, and I listened to it yesterday, like, five times, and it doesn’t have problems of 1 and 2. Part 3 is a collection of nearly perfect dance-pop songs. Robyn’s lyrics are veer back and forth from humor to deep pain, and everything is catchier than the flu. “Dancing On My Own,” for example, is already some sort of classic.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzWQSabtWLs]Queen of Denmark by John Grant. Well. OMG. A link to this song was left in the Facebook comments about this post, and I was floored. Grant’s voice is utterly haunting, and the songs are in some David Bowie / Elton John / Jens Lekman / Rufus Wainwright land where I want to move and retire. It’s a ridiculously beautiful album.

The 2009 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Music

It’s that time of year again! First up, the Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Music.

Most Excellence in Wrongness

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8qE6WQmNus]Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart is both genius and terrifying. One friend said that “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” “is a threat” and another said that “O’ Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fidelis)” “sounds likes a demonic incantation.” The album is the soundtrack for the next train to Wrongville. And yet I’ve found it hypnotic and, um, fun. If you think of Bob doing these songs at a drunken — very, very drunken — Irish bar on Christmas night, it sort of makes sense. Like the Pogues, minus a few gallons of whiskey.

Most Excellence in the Use of the Whole Rest

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIEOZCcaXzE]From 3:47 to 3:54 of MGMT’s brilliant dance jam paen to youth, “Kids,” all we hear are the light tapping of a drum set’s cymbals and the playing of children. And then BOOM, the refrain returns, and you’ll drive off the road if you’re dancing in your car. I’ve almost done that, well, too many times. The song is just amazing, and that moment is thrilling. I know it came out last year, but if the Grammys can nominate MGMT for Best New Artist for 2009, then I can give this song an award in 2009. So there.

Most Excellence in Auto-Tune

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7yfISlGLNU]Any song that mocks how lame many pop-rap songs are and how badly misused auto-tune can be is a winner in my book. (Yes, I have book. Really.) And the Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat” is quite the winner. Let’s hope it wins the Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. (Argh: Simulacra!) Andy Samberg, you’re my hero. And that’s also because…

Most Excellence in the Use of Color Me Bad’s Goodwill Donation

…he and Justin Timberlake made the best sequel since Empire Strikes Back. “Mother Lover,” the follow-up to the Emmy-winning “Dick in a Box,” has the two douches getting out of prison, realizing that they missed Mother’s Day, and come up with a plan to, yes, fuck each other’s mothers. Oddly, the song is sweet. And it has these lyrics (among others):

AS & JT: ’cause every Mother’s Day needs a Mother’s Night
If doing it is wrong, I don’t wanna be right
I’m callin’ on you ’cause I can’t do it myself
to me you’re like a brother, so be my mother lover

AS: I’m layin’ in the cut waitin’ for your mom
clutchin’ on this lube and roses

JT: I got my digital camera, I’m gonna make your momma do a million poses

AS: They will be so surprised

JT: We are so cool and thoughtful

AS: Can’t wait to pork your mom

JT: I’m gonna be the syrup, she can be my waffle

Comedy gold.

Most Excellence in Cheesy Pop

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M11SvDtPBhA]Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” has been ubiquitous for the last eight months or so, and rightfully so. This is a perfect pop song, and makes you want to dance, sweatermonkeys, DANCE. But it’s also about how awesome music is and how music and dancing can make you feel at ease in the world, part of something, and just fine:

So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song
And the butterflys fly away
Noddin’ my head like yeah
Moving my hips like yeah
And I got my hands up
They’re playin my song
I know I’m gonna be ok
Yeah, it’s a party in the USA

And I dig this video in all of it’s aesthetic mash-up of the Dirty South and slumming Silverlake. Also, Miley’s grown up and looks hawt. Suck it, haterz.

Most Excellence in Avant Garde (or “Smelly Cheese”) Pop

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAYBMx_HpME]Usually when pop singers “repackage” their albums, it’s usually with a few not-so-great add-ons and a vague name change (like Rihanna did with Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded or Eminem is doing with Relapse: Refill), all in order to keep said singer on the charts until the next full release comes out. However, the eight new songs on Lady Gaga’s Fame Monster, a repackaged version of The Fame, could have comprised an album — a very weird and totally amazing dance pop record. The song here, “Telephone,” which features Beyonce, has lyrics so strange they could have been written by Miss Fierce in her “Bootylicious” phase. As Perez Hilton said about the track, Gaga took it to the “next NEXT level!!!” Lady Gaga is a pop genius. (Here’s a guy doing an acoustic medley of her hits, in case you’re wondering if its the production or the songwriting that makes her great. It’s the latter.)

Most Excellence in Over-Produced Bombast

Who knew? Jordan Catalano, er, I mean Jared Leto screamed his way through the first two albums he and his brother and their band 30 Seconds to Mars made, and while I occasionally listened to a whole song if I heard it on the radio, I never thought they’d do something Golden Teddy-worthy. (I’m pretty sure having Flood and Steve Lillywhite as producers helped.) But “Kings and Queens” rocks. It’s so over-done, over-the-top, and opaque, and yet, it makes me feel proud and moved and sentimental; shivers go up my spine when I hear it. This video is amazing, despite the loving close-ups of Jordan’s, I mean Jared’s, face. It never crossed my mind that a bunch of freaky-deaky Critical Massers could elucidate and encapsulate this song. But they did. (Note: The rest of the album is not so good.)

Most Excellence in Old Home Week


[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0mhrqfeFjQ]I haven’t loved a Pearl Jam album in 10 years, but I ♥ Backspacer, in particular this track, “Just Breathe.” Gorgeous.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNIcVTmUSOU]Whitney Houston’s I Look to You was never going to put Whitney back on top of the charts, but it’s a damn fine album, with some great songs and some great singing. The best song is “Million Dollar Bill,” written by Alicia Keys.

Most Excellence in Live Performance

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUF-wLL9_EI]Not only is REM’s Live at the Olympia the best sounding live album I’ve ever heard (thank you, technology!), it’s also an awesome collection of songs and patter. Michael Stipe is in a bizarrely good mood. And they rock on these tunes.

Most Excellent Reason Thank American Idol


I’ve written extensively about Adam Lambert, so I won’t add much here. But I just want to add that his performances on American Idol last season were fucking amazing. Here’s one of my favorites.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQbIXDRGC60]Kelly Clarkson put out an another awesome pop album this year — and this one is a helluva lot more cheerful than the previous one, which bombed. The title track “All I Ever Wanted” hasn’t been released as a single yet, but it’s my favorite on the album. Here’s her doing it live on British TV.

Most Excellence in Being Siouxsie and the Banshees, But Not Really

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmGNo8RL5kM]When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs got all dance-y It’s Blitz, Karen O’s inner Siouxsie really came through. She even looks like her. But damn, it’s an awesome album. Try not dancing to it. I dare you.

Most Excellence in Twee

Owl City’s “Fireflies” is both annoying and adorable. I turn it up when it comes on the radio. Who knew that someone could steal Death Cab For Cutie’s sound and make a monstrous Top 40 hit with it?

Five Most Excellent Albums

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HgwWTxTwSE]The Very Best’s Warm Heart of Africa is world music fused with alt rock. Magical and addictive. This is the best album I’ve heard this year.

Morrissey’s Years of Refusal. It almost sounds like a Smith’s record. Great songwriting: simple, catchy, funny.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLLxdcrk0-s]The Gossip’s Music For Men is simply brilliant dance rock. It’s crazy success in the UK is yet another reason why their music scene is to be envied. US radio refuses to get behind anything remotely gay.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjIErrcr75A]The Soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Well, it’s possible for a craptastic movie to have an AMAZING soundtrack. While the screenwriter and director must abide by the book and it’s wretchedly silly aesthetics, the music supervisor doesn’t. Woohoo! “No Sound But the Wind” by Editors and “The Violet Hour” by Sea Wolf are particularly awesome. This Death Cab For Cutie song here is actually one of the weaker tracks.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYDhw8_lAn0]The Dead Weather’s Horehound is another Jack Black concept album, and arguably it’s the best non-White Stripes thing he’s done. It’s art rock at its artiest and most rockin’.

Five Most Excellent Singles

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HL548cHH3OY]There was no better single this year than “1901” by Phoenix.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnhXHvRoUd0]I love Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”. Fuck off, indy rock snobs.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tl3zhbWrBY]The first time I heard Band of Skulls singing “I Know What I Am,” I said, “Oh. My. God. Now that’s a rock and roll song.”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UjsXo9l6I8]When I hear Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind,” I want to get up and drive, fly, run, ski, sled, skip, pogo, or walk home to New York.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9cXLFk65y4]If Tilda Swinton and Kyle Minogue had a disco-diva love children, s/he would make something like La Roux’s “Bulletproof.”

3 things about Adam Lambert, Part 3: The AMAs, raunch at 10:55 PM, and “I’m Not a Babysitter. I’m a Performer.”

This video, which I love in all of its derivative and hilariously over-the-top glory, is for the song that Adam sang at the American Music Awards. It’s a better as recorded than it was sung live…

While I knew that Lambert would be performing at the AMAs, I wasn’t watching the show, and I wasn’t paying much attention. Until I clicked onto my sitemeter and saw that someone found my blog by searching for “adam lambert stunk on ama.” Not that I had ever written anything like that — Google does weird things. Intrigued, I clicked around and saw that he’d closed the show, and since it was time-delayed for the West Coast, I set the Tivo so I could watch it in a couple hours. Wow: Closed the show. Some producer really wants him to get some attention, and since the album was to come out the next day (today), it was some perfect synergy. I have sense been reminded that the AMAs are produced by Dick Clark, who has become Ryan Seacrest, and Ryan is nothing if not an “Idol” booster. Rock, on, Ryan.

This is how it went:

Ryan announces that the “Favorite Artist of the Year” is Taylor Swift, which is sort of appalling, but whatever, and then he announces that Adam is going to close the show. In case the video to the left is pulled from this site, this is what happened: His name, as logo, appears on the curtains, and the lights focus on Adam, who is singing the first lines of “For Your Entertainment” slowly and only accompanied by a Liberaced piano tinkle — exactly like Lady Gaga does when she performs “Poker Face.” His hair is gelled six inches high, and he’s wearing a silver suit with spikes on his left (your right) shoulder. Then the song really starts, and the band and the dancers, dressed like horny goth space aliens, bump and grind amid strobe lights and Adam being Adam: Making out with a girl and boy (but the boy was cut from the West Coast feed), leading slave boys on leashes and then simulating oral sex with one of them (though the oral simulation was cut from the West Coast feed), running around, tripping and falling, and really letting loose on the high screamy notes that usually he uses to punctuate his performances, not completely dominate them.

I’ve been rather pissed at Adam for his behavior concerning Out over the last week (see here), so I readily said, “Wow, this is baaaad.” Now, part of the problem is that whoever was in charge of the audio mix of the show last night was incompetent, so even when Adam wasn’t overdoing the vocals, it sounded terrible. And that song, as much as I love it when I listen to the recording, probably isn’t meant to be performed live. Or maybe it is, and this was just, well, a bad performance. Rob, sitting next to me on the couch, said, “You’ve turned on him already?” And then I felt guilty. Then, I thought, “No, singing-wise, this was kinda bad. The stage production, with the sex and stuff… well, that’s kinda hilarious.”

A little later, I went online and saw that the Twitterverse had shot Adam to the top of the trending topics, and it seemed that most of the tweets were about how awful he was — awful in the “OMG! IT’S SEX AND GAY!” JoeMyGod got a post up almost instantaneously about the controversy over the sexiness, and, per usual, some of his commenters did their best to trash Adam for, ya know, not being Barry Manilow or John Mayer. But a number of commenters made the very good point that if Madonna or Britney had done worse, no one would have blinked. Okay, a few people would have blinked, but not like what has happened in the last 18 hours. The AP just reported that ABC, which ran the AMAs, had received 1500 complaints about Adam’s performance. And not for the vocals.

On the other hand, the LA Times said his performance was one of the show’s highlights, simply because it wasn’t boring:

“American Idol” sometimes get criticized for cranking out safe, digestible, inoffensive pop stars. But this year’s runner-up, Adam Lambert, did his best to break out of that rap with his ultra-lewd closing performance of “For Your Entertainment.” ABC censors had to quick-cut to an odd aerial shot of the audience when Lambert had a male backup dancer simulate oral sex on him midsong. Parents may be outraged, but thank God for that. We were thinking music was getting a little too stale.

They also had him quoted on the sexual nature of the performance.

“The energy felt good. Adrenaline is a crazy thing to feel,” Lambert said to Pop & Hiss after the show. “That’s what I love about performing. I’m hoping people were entertained. For those who weren’t, maybe I’m not their cup of tea.”

When asked if he thought the most extreme moments would be edited out of the West Coast broadcast, Lambert wasn’t shy about how he would react to such a move.

“If it’s gonna be edited, then in a way that’s discrimination. I don’t mean to get political, but Madonna, Britney and Christina weren’t edited,” Lambert said. “It’s a shame. Female entertainers have been risqué for years. Honestly, there’s a huge double standard.”

That’s Adam being very political. I wonder if he’s making up for what happened the past week with Out. Because if he was worried about alienating people by being too gay in a magazine read only by gay people, he certainly wasn’t worried about being too gay on a show watched by everyone else. And if you want to see some alienated I’m-not-a-homophobe-I-just-can’t-deal-with-male-sexuality commentary, just read the stuff after the LA Times piece.

So, I’m of two minds about Adam’s performance. Vocally, it was off. And it was too frenetic and thematically unclear. But it pissed a helluva lot of people off. And all the right ones. And it’s at least partly to blame for sending his stuff up the charts on Amazon and iTunes.

UPDATE: People have lost their minds. According to Perez Hilton, ABC has canceled Adam’s mini-concert on Good Morning America that was supposed to happen on Friday. And now #ShameOnYouABC is a trending topic on Twitter. Meanwhile, the dumb twit Elisabeth Hasselback trashed him on The View, and since she’s basically a mouthpiece for the Sarah Palin set, the thumpers must really be in a snit about him. Feministing explains why Adam Lambert scares people with a post called, ha, “It’s OK patriarchy, I understand Adam Lambert made you feel funny.” (And the comments to the post explain why many people think feminists might be sex-negative.) The Times has a wrap-up (minus Perez’s scoop), and the comments are ridiculous. Per usual. In response to all of this, Adam said to Ryan Seacrest, “I’m not a babysitter, I’m a performer.” Oh, snap.

UPDATE #2: The CBS’s The Early Show, which gets a tiny fraction of GMA’s or Today’s audience, saw an opportunity, and they invited Adam to discuss the controversy and perform — the day after GMA threw him under the bus. And Adam gave good interview. From the Times website, which is so all over Adam Lambert and the AMAs that they have a hub called “The Adam Lambert Fallout: Were You Not Entertained?“, some choice quotes:

As his performance from the American Music Awards continues to stoke controversy, even costing him a booking on “Good Morning America,” Adam Lambert acknowledged in a television interview that he “did get carried away” during his awards show appearance. But the singer declined to apologize for his act, saying that it was ultimately “up to the parents to discern what their child’s watching on television.”

Damn straight. As it were.

Mr. Lambert said in the interview that he had “no clue, no clue at all” that his routine would upset viewers. He added: “I admit I did get carried away, but I don’t see anything wrong with it. I do see how people got offended, and that was not my intention. My intention was just to interpret the lyrics of my song and have a good time up there.”

The singer said that some of his sexually charged moves during the performance had not been previously rehearsed. “Those kind of came from more of an impromptu place,” he said, adding: “I think ABC was taken a little by surprise. That wasn’t my intention, I wasn’t being sneaky. It just – it got the most of me, I guess.”

This sounds great, and I want to believe it, but the guy has done a lot of live stuff. In the theater. Improv usually isn’t allowed.

Mr. Lambert said he understood why some viewers, especially parents, might have been offended by his act. “It was almost 11 o’clock,” he said, “it was a night time show. I was there in the audience full of mostly adults. Sometimes I forget, oh, there’s a camera on. I come from the theater, and I’m programmed to look at who’s in the live audience. And that’s where I come from. I was looking at the crowd and saw some of my favorite pop stars, and thought, I want to let loose.”

He’s selling authenticity. And I’m buying it.

Mr. Lambert cited similarly provocative performances given by his fellow pop stars at the American Music Awards that did not seem to generate as much outrage.

“Just to play devil’s advocate with you,” Mr. Lambert said, “Lady Gaga smashing whiskey bottles, Janet Jackson grabbed a male dancer’s crotch. Eminem talked about how Slim Shady has 17 rapes under his belt. There’s a lot of very adult material on the AMAs this year, and I know I wasn’t the only one. I’m not using it as an excuse, and I didn’t take any offense with those performers’ choices.”

And he repeated his assertion that he is the victim of a double standard in the entertainment industry. “If it had been a female pop performer doing the moves that were on the stage,” Mr. Lambert said, “I don’t think there would be nearly as much of an outrage.”

Asked if he thought he was being criticized because he was a man or because he was gay, Mr. Lambert said, “Both. I think it’s a double whammy. I think it’s because I’m a gay male, and people haven’t seen that before.”

Yes, yes, yes. Unfortunately, CBS double-standarded it up in their coverage by blurring out Adams’ same-sex kiss from the AMAs perfomance while not blurring out the for-comparison image of Madonna and Britney Spears doing the same thing. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

He did not believe he needed to apologize for his American Music Awards performance. “I’m not a babysitter,” Mr. Lambert said. “I’m a performer.”

Clearly, he realized this line worked on Seacrest the day before, so he used it again. It is a great line, and it really shows up the fucktards who are screeching “What about the children?!” about a vaguely sexually charged performance of a pop singer at 10:55 PM on a school night. Or, as I wrote in a Facebook comment yesterday: “The censored reruns of Sex in the City that air at the same time in many markets are vastly more raunchy. Of course, that’s all heterosexual sex. And the shows that air on network TV at the same time, or earlier, are more explicitly violent than Lambert’s was sexual. CSI, SVU, and Criminal Minds are pornographically violent — and in-depth. Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) is all blood, all of the time. Or Private Practice — on ABC — had a whole multi-episode arc about someone ripping a baby out of the belly of a major character. Lambert’s split second simulated oral sex — face in groin and that’s all — is nothing compared to what is commonplace on TV. ABC attacking him for that performance is the height of hypocrisy.”

Given the chance, Mr. Lambert said he would change one thing about that performance. “I would sing it a little bit better,” he said.

Yes, that would have been nice. Check out the video of the song at the top of this post to see how it was supposed to be done. I doubt that it could be done like that live, but whatevs.

However, if you want to see him kill it live, there are two videos of Adam singing from the morning that are pretty great. The first is him doing “Whataya Want From Me” (misnamed as “What Do You Want From Me” on the CBS website), and the second is “Music Again.” Okay, he kills it on “Whataya Want From Me.” He does “Music Again” just okay.


UPDATE #3: Sales are up! From the LA Times:

But all the chatter and debate isn’t stopping people from picking up his first post-“American Idol” release. Billboard writes that “For Your Entertainment” should sell at least 225,000 copies when it debuts on next week’s chart, and could possibly move more with post-Thanksgiving shoppers invading retailers. Lambert’s promo tour continues tonight with an appearance on the “Late Show With David Letterman.”

Also from the LA Times, Ann Powers explains it all, and brilliantly:

Few straight white men don’t strut the way Lambert does (sadly!). Most still embody the norm in our society, because racism, sexism and homophobia still haunt us. And the norm never shows itself off. It’s just taken for granted. For all of his media-savvy and strategic approach to stardom, Adam Lambert remains a rock outsider. Though I’m his fan, I don’t think his AMAs’ turn was perfect; it would have been much more effective it his usually excellent vocals had matched the audacity of his dance moves. But I don’t agree with those who are saying his routine was just a tired attempt to shock. What he did won’t be mundane until no one in America flinches when two men kiss on the street. Or until an out gay rock star is no longer an anomaly.

However, it was Alessandra Stanley who hit the nail on the head:

There is a lot of very adult material on television all the time, and mostly it flows unchecked and unpunished, except when it comes as a surprise and hits a nerve. Community standards are mutable and vague; lots of people don’t know obscenity until someone else sees it. Ms. Jackson transgressed during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show because she exposed a nipple, which is one thing that network television normally doesn’t show. Mr. Lambert, who just released his first album, startled viewers because he did things akin to what outré rappers and female pop stars have performed onstage to get attention, only he did it as a gay man.

Mr. Lambert’s context was different, mostly because he is gay and his song “For Your Entertainment” is graphically sexual, with intimations of sadomasochism and oral sex. Straight sadomasochism is suggested all the time in music videos, and early this season Courteney Cox’s character on the ABC sitcom “Cougar Town” was coyly depicted performing oral sex on a younger man

It wasn’t the best musical performance by any means, but it wasn’t the worst display of sexual debauchery either. Mostly it was a reminder of television’s policy regarding gay men: Do tell, just don’t show.

In a similar vein, Newsweek has Julia Baird writing — and well:

It is tempting to write the whole thing off as lame and overblown, a fight over the cautious sensibilities of a middle-American TV audience against the need of a gay pop singer to garner attention, entertain, and push back on shame. But then I think of the self-loathing and destructive behavior of many young gay people coming to terms with their identity and the violence of ignorant people toward them. Homophobia isn’t an abstract debate—it can be ugly and dangerous.

I wonder if Time will wade in with something typically contrarian and offensive…


Disgustingly, ABC has now canceled Lambert’s performance on Jimmy Kimmel’s show and killed his booking on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. (Here’s Michael Slezak’s lame EW story about that.) I guess it’s okay to have a running bit about fucking Ben Affleck, but not to have a split second dance move that makes people think about actual gay men having sex. Meanwhile, and oddly, ABC is letting Barbara Walters put him in her “Ten Most Fascinating People of 2009” show and perform on The View.