Graph+sas on Wikimedia Commons
The GRAMMYs are coming upon the world of music once again, and, like every year, their attempt to present a somewhat objective list of the best music of the last couple of months was not met with universal agreement. However, as is often the case, there is a quantity of quality music under consideration for the awards that is certainly worth one’s times, as are there some songs that, while perhaps strong as compositions or performed notably well, are not as great as their nomination might suggest. So, having listened to all eight of the GRAMMYs’ Songs of the Year nominees, I present my opinion on which music is worth the time and which tracks, while commendable in one aspect or another, are better skipped.
Two of these eight songs which I really found underwhelming were H.E.R.’s “Hard Place” and Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.” Of the two, “Truth Hurts” certainly has more merit for me, with hilariously sharp lyrics tearing apart an over-his-head ex (“Why men great ‘til they gotta be great?” is a phenomenal line), and a bombastic, lively performance that showcases Lizzo’s charm as a messy shoulder angel with a voice that suffocates the demons. However, there’s a meanness embedded in the song, which seems to be a front to hide the true pain this man Lizzo believed in caused her. “Hard Place” was extremely emotionless for me despite H.E.R.’s lyricism, which, while simple, clearly captures the crumbling relationship she’s in as she struggles with whether or not she should leave. However, her performance of these lyrics generates no feeling for her character, and the texture and tempo of the song contribute to a wooden, careless aura that further drains the song of any impact. Overall, I disliked both of these tracks, with “Truth Hurts” turning me away with the poison bubbling beneath its surface package of self-empowerment pop, and “Hard Place” leaving me rather disappointed with its relaxed approach to a subject that demands intensity.
Lana Del Rey and Lady Gaga both provided more for me in their efforts, but they didn’t sweep me away, either. Lana’s “Norman Rockwell” had my hopes up going into it due to Jack Antonoff’s involvement in both the penning and production of the song, as he has had a hand in several of my favorite pop works recently (Taylor Swift’s captivating ballad “New Year’s Day”, Lorde’s masterful album Melodrama), and given Lana’s common association with Lorde as a similar artist, I hoped that I would be blown away. I wasn’t. The lyrics, while at first comically shocking against the somewhat pretentious piano behind her (which, given the subject of the song, was probably an intentional musical choice), ended up leaving me somewhat confused as to what exactly the song wanted to say, and the lack of any propulsion throughout the song left me feeling quite empty. However, although the song’s lyrics are like oil upon the song’s sea, Lana’s performance on this song certainly warrants praise, especially as she ascends in the final chorus to a quivering tone that I have never heard before, something both otherworldly and animalistic. Lady Gaga also performs a rather uninspiring song beautifully on her A Star Is Born cut “Always Remember Us This Way,” although her lyrics, instead of being jarring like Lana’s, are mostly too generic and emotionally impotent to match the yearning in her voice. The song is gorgeously produced, enveloping the listener in the music so that the beginning notes of the piano seem to almost drip and glitter, and the drums take on a surprising degree of power as you feel them play around you, as if you were next to Gaga on the stage. While “I’ll Never Love Again” is still my favorite song on the A Star Is Born soundtrack, “Always Remember” is a better song, in terms of composition, than Lana Del Rey’s offering, and in terms of production, aside from the crowd cheers that feel added in after the recording, it is a stunningly realized work with a texture I hope to find more commonly across music.
Perhaps the least well-known of any of the nominated tracks this year, the song I think is most deserving of this GRAMMY is Tanya Tucker’s “Bring My Flowers Now.” The song is co-written by Brandi Carlile, a country singer-songwriter I hadn’t heard of since she was nominated for both Album and Song of the Year for the 2019 GRAMMYs, and just like last year, her work warrants that latter prize. “Bring My Flowers Now” is a simple, somber piano ballad about the most serious of all subjects—mortality—and finds a peace that, while imperfect, is completely believable and heartbreaking. Tanya’s voice, while nowhere near as acrobatic as Lana’s or Gaga’s, feels weathered while at the same time still full of spirit and even some sass, giving the impression that the woman we’re listening to was once a fiery rascal and, although time may have calmed her, she still has the same flame burning brightly within her. The lyrics of the song work perfectly with the performance to portray a truly intimate and poignant moment, as Tanya reminisces on what she’s done and failed to do, and even though she’s ultimately content, there’s an unavoidable regret that anyone can relate to, young or old, and especially as she sings about wishing she could have been better to her parents, the song reaches a degree of melancholy that may bring a tear to some eyes. The song is a gentle exhortation to seize the moment, as one never knows how many moments are left. While other songs on this list may have succeeded in elevating parties, capturing a romantic movement, or tapping into truly epic fantasy, this record succeeded in not only potently discussing the greatest question of them all—”what to do with your one wild and precious life”—but successfully answering it in a form that made me want to listen again, and for that, it merits to win the Song of the Year award as well as every second of thought that award might garner it.