I watched the Grammys last night. Well, I watched the first hour of it anyway, which is about all I could manage. I’ve been interviewing singer-songwriters recently and have been thinking a lot about the chances they have at success in today’s music industry. There was Taylor Swift, the child bride of Nashville, former teen idol blossomed into starlet. When will her heart really break? Rihanna and Chris Brown, tapping into the Ike & Tina, Whitney + Bobby narrative; behind every caged bird, a hustling thug.
There were performers who wrote their own songs, like Adele, and managed the excited electron leap from a small orbit of stardom to a spacious one. And there were the people who wrote other people’s songs, like Gotye and Frank Ocean, who through talent and street smarts elbowed their way into the publishing game. And then there was Jay-Z, who writes part of every rap song and gets a piece of all the action.
The funnest part of the Grammys is the cultural genre battle, where R&B and country collide, all smiles on the outside but no doubt some muttering under the breath here and there. Imagine a cocktail party with Jack White and the Black Keys, Kanye and Wiz, Blake and Miranda, Mumford and fun. The DJ cues T Swift on repeat because they are never ever ever getting back together.
I heard two types of songs last night: the ones that ended in bouncing crescendos and the ones designed to be remixed into club anthems that transcend the economically limiting barrier of language and end in bouncing crescendos. The message was mostly the same: We are alright. You are alright. A message to believe for a couple of minutes at a time to get through your runs, or work days, or breakups.
Our copy editor, Susan, who does a terrific job, was shaking her head and smiling to herself last week. She’d gotten the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love” stuck in her head, in particular the horn part, and couldn’t shake it as she was reading this week’s feature, on couples in love.
The song debuted as part of the world’s first live satellite telecast in 1967, globalization’s birthday anthem. Lennon called the sneakily straightforward message “propaganda”: “Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time. It’s easy. All you need is love.” Got it?