Posters in The Envelope's message boards have mixed, strong opinions about how Christina Aguilera performed on the Grammy Awards telecast. Just days after she botched crooning the national anthem at the Super Bowl, Aguilera teamed up with Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, Florence Welch and Yolanda Adams to pay tribute to "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin.
At the conclusion, the singers got a standing ovation. Or maybe the huzzahs were an outpouring of love for Franklin?
In our forums, a poster named laceycomplained, "Way too much screaming and riffing from Aguilera for my tastes, though I know Aretha herself does it too." musicfan2003griped, "Can't she just sing a song the way it's supposed to be sung without adding her 'vocal touch' to it? Christina is getting ridiculous."
Lady Gaga's "The Fame Monster" has won the Grammy Award for pop vocal album, beating out Justin Bieber's "My World 2.0," Susan Boyle's "I Dreamed a Dream," John Mayer's "Battle Studies" and "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry.
The awards — which are considered the highest honor in the music world — are being presented at Staples Center and telecast on CBS. We'll carry all the breaking news and headlines here on Awards Tracker.
Miranda Lambert, the saucy country singer who first collared listeners in 2006 with her fiery debut single, “Kerosene,” has won the Grammy Award for female country vocal performance for “The House That Built Me.” The contemplative track is from “Revolution,” her third studio album that has sold more than 1.1 million copies since its September 2009 release.
“The House That Built Me” was up against efforts from Jewel, LeAnn Rimes, Carrie Underwood and Gretchen Wilson. Lambert also snagged a Grammy nomination for record of the year.
The Grammys recognize outstanding work produced between Sept. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010. The awards — which are considered the highest honor in the music world — are being presented at Staples Center and telecast on CBS. We'll carry all the breaking news and headlines here on Awards Tracker.
In what may turn out to be a portent, Lady Antebellum won for both country performance and country duo/group performance for its crossover smash, "Need You Now," at the 53rd Grammy Awards pre-telecast ceremony, which is concluding at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. The Nashville trio is also up for record of the year and song of the year for the song, as well as album of the year for its crossover recording of the same name.
In the highly competitive rap categories, Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" bested friend and rival Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" in two major rap song categories: rap song and best rap/sung collaboration. Eminem, who is up for 10 awards, snagged the rap solo erformance award for his hit song "Not Afraid." Other winners include Sade, who took home the trophy for R&B performance by a duo or group, and the Roots and John Legend, who won two R&B awards: R&B album and traditional R&B vocal performance.
Akron, Ohio, rock duo the Black Keys, whose 2010 album, "Brother," was one of the most acclaimed releases of the year, won for alternative album and rock performance by a duo or group with vocals, beating out favorite Arcade Fire both times.
The pre-telecast ceremony also honored some elder statesmen of American music. Legendary boogie-woogie pianist Pinetop Perkins, who is 97 years old, beat unlikely competition Cyndi Lauper in the traditional blues album category. And Pete Seeger, who is 92, won musical album for children for his album with the Rivertown Kids and Friends, "Tomorrow's Children."
For complete coverage of the Grammy Awards telecast, which begins at 5 p.m. PST, check back here on Awards Tracker and at our sister blog Pop & Hiss.
The classical music categories for the 2011 Grammy Awards were dominated by recordings of Michael Daugherty’s “Metropolis Symphony” -- inspired by the Superman comics and performed by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra -- and for Verdi’s “Requiem,” performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The recording of Verdi’s “Requiem” won the top classical Grammy for classical album as well as the award for choral performance. It features the Chicago Symphony and Chorus led by conductor Riccardo Muti and choral master Duain Wolfe. [Update: An earlier version of this post misstated the choral master as Christopher Alder.]
Earlier this season, Muti took over as music director of the orchestra, but his appearances have been cut short after he injured himself in a fall from the podium this month in Chicago. The 69-year-old conductor is recovering from surgery to his face and also has received a pacemaker.
Daugherty’s “Metropolis Symphony” won three awards, for contemporary composition, orchestral performance and engineering. “Metropolis” was inspired by the Superman comic-book character and features five separate movements. The recording, from Naxos, also includes the composer’s “Deus Ex Machina.” The album features the Nashville Symphony led by conductor Giancarlo Guerrero.
Daugherty served as the composer in residence for Orange County’s Pacific Symphony during its 2009-10 season.
Billie Joe Armstrong and the band Green Day have won the 2011 Grammy Award for musical show album for Broadway's "American Idiot." The other nominees in the category were "Sondheim on Sondheim," "A Little Night Music," "Fela!" and "Promises, Promises."
Armstrong wasn't present in Los Angeles to accept the award because he is playing the role of St. Jimmy in "American Idiot" at the St. James Theatre in New York.
The "American Idiot" album was released by Reprise. The jukebox musical uses songs from Green Day's albums "American Idiot" and "21st Century Breakdown," both of which won Grammy awards in 2005 and 2010, respectively.
Armstrong will be performing in the Broadway production through Feb. 27. A national tour of "American Idiot" is currently in the works, with a start date expected in the fall.
Here it is, a lovely February afternoon in Los Angeles, and Staples Center has started to receive its annual parade of pop stars, rock royalty, country cads and sirens, hip-hop sensations -- and those who love, dress, record, market or bankroll them, or any other combination therein. For the latest in all things Grammys -- including information on Lady Gaga arriving like some sort of modern day Cleopatra, please check out The Times' Awards Tracker, Ministry of Gossip, and our music blog, Pop & Hiss. Our coverage will include Todd Martens' live coverage of the pre-telecast awards, occurring now, and the ceremony, which starts at 5 p.m.
It's been a busy weekend in tinseltown -- Arcade Fire kept it real at the Ukranian Cultural Center; Bruno Mars delivered featherweight pop to the glamoratti at Bardot -- so we've been running around, keeping tabs on the Grammy shenanigans. Check out the links below for our take on party patrol so far.
Grammy predictions are a dangerous thing. They attempt to crawl into the brains of notorious bohemians (members of the music industry) who exult in being contrarians. However, certain voting patterns have emerged over the years that help us to forecast what will happen when trophies are doled out tonight. My conclusion: an Eminem sweep and a Grammy breakthrough by Drake.
PREDICTION: "Recovery" POSSIBLE SPOILER: "The Fame Monster"
Only three contenders have a prayer: Eminem, Lady Antebellum and Lady Gaga. Eminem has lost twice in the past ("The Marshall Mathers LP," "The Eminem Show"), but he'll finally triumph because his album has the most noble theme: rally from substance abuse.
Lady Gaga, let's be honest, deserves this, but her album is old news, unabashedly trashy and Grammys seem to have a secret gripe against her. Her "Bad Romance" was really the record of 2010, but it's not nominated there and Gaga wasn't even put up for best new artist in the past. The only way Lady Antebellum can win is if the trio also takes the categories for best record and song and then carry this along in a sweep.
RECORD OF THE YEAR NOMINEES "Nothing on You," B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars "Love the Way You Lie," Eminem featuring Rihanna "… You," Cee-Lo Green "Empire State of Mind," Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys "Need You Now," Lady Antebellum
PREDICTION: "Love the Way You Lie" POSSIBLE SPOILERS: "Need You Now" and "--- You"
Only one contender doesn't have a prayer: "Nothing on You." All other rivals have a real shot. I'm dismissing "Empire State of Mind" because there's a rap/R&B tune here that feels more important thanks to its message ("Love the Way You Lie") and another one that has the catchiest melody and naughtiest lyrics ("… You"). "… You" has a real shot because of who's voting: rascal members of the music industry who think naughty is nice. However, I may be under-estimating "Empire." Could regret this.
Many award pundits are betting on "Need You Now" because of the apples and orange theory of award prognostication: It's the one serious contender here (orange) in a basket of apples (rap/R&B). Often that's a smart theory to follow, but I believe "Love the Way You Lie" will take this as part of Eminem's sweep of the top three races (album, record and song). Also, it has appeal because of Rihanna's role, which is shockingly brave considering the lyrics she sings.
Groundbreaking music producers RedOne, Alex Da Kid and Ari Levine — in the running for multiple Grammys — embody the competitive and future-focused spirit that’s now a part of pop music’s DNA.
Nadhir Kayat’s journey from obscurity to fame is the tale of a global wanderer. Born the youngest of nine children in the Moroccan port city of Tetouan, Kayat realized early on that his ambitions required him to leave all he knew.
“I grew up in Africa,” said Kayat, now better known by his nom du studio, RedOne, in a recent Los Angeles Times-sponsored roundtable discussion at the Grammy Museum in downtown L.A. “And America, the dream, is very far.” Luckily for Kayat, his particular dream — pop music — has a closer power center. In Sweden, he found the route to becoming what he is today: a Grammy-winning producer behind hits for Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga, nominated this year for his field’s most prestigious nod, that of producer of the year.
RedOne’s Scandinavian period was tough at first. “I knew no-bo-dy,” he recalled. “I didn’t know the language.” He found his way by trying everything. He played in rock bands, helped out aspiring pop singers and hung around recording studios, picking up the amalgam of languages he heard in pop’s various home environments.
Finding focus even in the most rapidly shifting landscapes, the producers who are the real powerhouses behind most mainstream hits thrive in circumstances that more traditional music-makers might consider chaotic. Genre is dead. Allegiance to a particular subculture is counterproductive. Old-fashioned values about “real music” don’t factor in when you’re reaching for the next unexpected sound.
“I’ve been traveling all over the world, and to me music is one, you know? The universal language,” said RedOne. For him, that’s not a cliché, it’s a lifeline. Linking African rhythms to Arabic melodic systems, adding in rock drums and post-disco synth lines, RedOne has hit upon a sound that seamlessly spans genres and historical styles: the hyper-mobile, transnational sound of post-millennial pop.
He’s not alone. In front of a delighted crowd at the Grammy Museum RedOne shared stories, opinions and tips with Alex Da Kid (born Alexander Grant) and Ari Levine, two other producers nominated for multiple Grammys this year. (This writer served as moderator.) The conversation confirmed that in 2011, pop’s world-spanning character resides not only in the increasingly diverse identities of its stars, but in the frequent-flyer beats and Esperanto tunes crafted by its producers.
“Kids, especially, with the Internet, they’re more open to things in general,” said London-born Alex Da Kid, whose powerfully emotional approach has resulted in hits including Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” and “Airplanes” by Atlanta rapper B.o.B. “Now, once they’ve heard something, they can go and investigate. Before, they might hear something once and that’s it. All the information is at their disposal. We’ll see more of that as well as time progresses.”
The 26-year-old was one such kid not long ago — an aspiring footballer who started making tracks after a friend showed him the digital audio workstation Fruity Loops. (He now uses Apple’s music production suite, Logic, which he calls “my instrument.”) A childhood spent listening to his Jamaican dad’s dub reggae mixes fed his sense of rhythm, and hip-hop, he said, is his home genre. But more than identifying with one scene, Alex Da Kid likes to keep on the move.
“I actually made that track on the subway in England, going to a session with [the American rapper and songwriter] Sean Garrett,” he said as Nicki Minaj’s “Massive Attack” burst out of the sound system at the Grammy Museum. Riding the crosscurrents of urban life inspires him.
“Not just the music but definitely the culture,” he explained. “London’s so multicultural. I went to school with so many different types of people — different religions, different races. That definitely influenced me. I like to try and bring everything together, and use hip-hop as a foundation, but build on that.”
The urge to discover new worlds, even in one’s own backyard, has been a key motivator in pop since its beginning in roadhouses and traveling vaudeville shows. But now more than ever, success comes to those who have no particular comfort zone.
“A lot of it has to do with technology nowadays,” said Levine, who is one-third of the writing and production team the Smeezingtons, experts in crafting cyberspace-age urban pop for artists such as Cee Lo Green, Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars. “Alex can sit on the subway and make a hit song. Back in the day, you had to work your way up through these large studios. Now anyone can put a studio in their house and make hits there. Or on a laptop.”
Levine dropped out of his New Jersey high school to find studio engineering work in L.A., but ended up pretty much penniless, applying for work in a local laundromat before he hooked up with Smeezingtons teammates Mars and Philip Lawrence. Levine stressed that even the most advanced computer whiz still needs to keep the human element in mind when aiming for the top of the charts. “You can sit around making songs all day, but you have to find the right person to sell it,” he said. “You at least have some sort of vibe on what an artist is looking for and what his or her strengths are, and play off of those.”
The classic recording studio scene, re-created in countless films and music videos, puts the artist right in the room with her collaborators: standing in front of a microphone while her producer twists knobs behind the glass. That’s not always how it happens now.
“I didn’t meet Hayley until the Grammy nominations,” said Alex Da Kid of Paramore singer Hayley Williams, who sang the indelible hook on “Airplanes.” “When I did ‘Love the Way You Lie’ with Rihanna, it was last minute, and as we were mixing the song — me and Emimen — she was recording the vocals in Dublin. We had met before that, but that’s how she recorded it. That song wouldn’t exist without technology, because schedules are so crazy.”
RedOne and Lady Gaga wrote the music for “Bad Romance” on her tour bus — the birthplace of many classics strummed on acoustic guitar, but not the first place you’d look to discover a club hit. Talking about the Gaga sound, RedOne hit upon another way that music now can’t stand still. Few major artists attach themselves to one style or even evoke only one era. Producers must be like safecrackers, practiced in finding perfect combinations.
RedOne’s productions reflect his Swedish past, when he played in a metal band but also produced Abba-ish artists such as the A*Teens. “If you listen to my music, a lot of it has a rock feeling,” he said. “‘I Like It’ (the chart-topper he produced for Iglesias) or Gaga’s “Just Dance” — those songs have rock drums. The only thing is, I replace the guitars with synths.”
Interrupting each other frequently to bestow mutual admiration, the three innovators at the Grammy Museum embodied the relentless focus on the future that dominates the changing pop industry, in which old values like authenticity and purity have thoroughly given way to the pursuit of the next big thing. Such competitiveness and focus on innovation could seem antithetical to the meditative mood often associated with the artistic process, but these groundbreakers are shaping sounds that speak powerfully as part of our frantic, distracted lives. It makes sense for them to constantly keep moving.
“The most important thing is having a vision, and being able to see something before anyone else can see it — before the record label people, before anybody else,” said Alex Da Kid. “Most of the songs you’re working on, they won’t come out for three or more months at least, so you have to be able to think about what’s going to be able to be a hit record in six months, a year, two years. You have to kind of get away from listening to what’s on the radio. You want to be thinking ahead.”
There is always time, however, to pause and appreciate the producer’s greatest reward: the experience of an audience loving your sound. That’s a global phenomenon too.
“Sometimes they connect to it more than you do,” said RedOne, with a laugh. “You love it, it’s fun, it’s cool, but then you go to Spain or Madrid or Paris, and you see people loving the song way more than you ever expected. They’re saying, ‘Oh my god, this is me, it’s talking to me!’ It’s amazing. That’s the beauty of music. It talks to every person differently; they can interpret it their own way.”
Image, clockwise from top left, RedOne Eminem, Ari Levine, Cee Lo Green, Alex Da Kid and Lady Gaga. Credit: Francine Orr, Interscope Records, Francine Orr, Jeff Christensen, Francine Orr and Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images.
Alex Da Kid, RedOne and Ari Levine give advice, discuss their backgrounds and reveal what goes into the making of a hit record.
In January, The Times invited three of this year's Grammy-nominated music producers to participate in a conversation on the state of pop music, the changing role of their job and the ways in which sound and melody crossed borders in 2010. Though the artists are less known than the singers who turned their songs into hits, their résumés speak for themselves.
London-born Alex Grant, who works under the pseudonym Alex Da Kid, is nominated for two of his 2010 tracks: Eminem and Rihanna's “Love the Way You Lie” and B.o.B.'s “Airplanes.”
The producer known as RedOne was born Nadir Khayat and is of Moroccan descent. Best known as the producer behind Lady Gaga's impressive string of hits over the last two years — “Poker Face,” “Alejandro,” and “Bad Romance,” among them — RedOne is nominated as producer of the year (non-classical) for his work with Gaga and others.
And Ari Levine is one-third (along with Bruno Mars and Philip Lawrence) of the L.A.-based production trio the Smeezingtons, also nominated for producer of the year, whose 2010 songs included Cee Lo Green's “[Forget] You,” B.o.B.'s “Nothin' on You,” and Mars' “Just the Way You Are.”
In advance of Sunday night's Grammy Awards, Times Pop Critic Ann Powers moderated the public discussion and played some of the producers' hits at the Clive Davis Theater at the Grammy Museum.