The Grammys are upon us. As I ponder the nominees in the category of "Song of the Year" on my Recording Academy voting ballot I'm happy to report that all five compositions were written by no more than three songwriters. Why does this make me smile?
Well, my little blogging career got off the ground this past June when Huffpo published my musings on Mesfin Fedaku's Associated Press piece, "How Many Songwriters Does It Take To Produce A Hit." He explained that in the current songwriting culture, writing can be divided among many including "producers who design the beats, artists who sing the song and add their own flavor, engineers who mix the track and others who work specifically on the melody."
Admittedly, many a catchy earworm has been spawned from a fun-loving songwriting soiree. But as I said in my piece, I prefer the more intimate experience...the personal meeting of the minds, hearts and souls. And I suggest to you that perhaps a less diffused team makes it easier to focus in and produce a song with a unique and resonant point of view. This year's picks seem to reflect that notion.
Let's have look at the nominees. I happen to be a huge fan of Sia's "Chandelier" and her body of work in general. I also love Hozier's soulful and haunting "Take Me To Church." Sam Smith broke hearts with the vulnerable "Stay With Me" and found himself welcomed and embraced in an arena that usually reserves its excitement for songs that raise spirits. As for Taylor's "Shake It Off"? Umm, to be honest this wasn't my personal fave of Taylor's. (Though "Blank Space" was, and if it were nominated I might have had to vote for it.)
But only one of the five nominated songs, "All About That Bass," was penned by writers (Kevin Kadish and Meghan Trainor) who were making their livings as working songwriters before the song went viral. In other words, they got out of bed every day, and wrote a song with or for recording artists at large. Meghan wasn't officially an Epic artist until L.A. Reid signed her after hearing her sing her own song.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not implying that "Bass" is a better or more deserving contender than the other four nominees because of this. I'm not even saying which song will have my vote. I'm merely pointing out what a long shot it was for Bass to go all the way. It's hard to get a song going these days unless there's a household name attached to it or a pre-existing fan base behind the artist. As a career songwriter I can't help but take heart.
There were additional challenges for Bass...like the flack it caught for its topic. With all the unconventional language on the airwaves it's hard to believe the backlash over a little booty (or in this case a lot). Especially when this song was far from the first to broach the subject and nobody seemed to have a problem with others: "Anaconda," "Twerkit," "Wiggle," "Booty," "Back That Ass Up." Need I go on? Did Bass ruffle more feathers because Meghan didn't fit the profile of a girl who would go there? If that's the case, it's quite the double standard. Then again, any publicity is good publicity. So bring it on.
Another refreshing aspect of Bass' success is that the production isn't formulaic. There are no Wha-oh Wha-oh's, gang vocals, obligatory post hooks. It's void of whistles and trumpets and lifted melodies. There's nothing wrong with following trends. But doesn't this say something for the karma of two creators who were ignoring a template...doing their own thing and bam--lightning in a bottle.
So many of us (myself included) are trying to emulate whatever it was that was a hit last week. When the underdog barks loudly enough it makes me feel foolish for being a chaser. It makes me stand back and remember to stay true. We're all running around trying to get in the right room. And sometimes we don't even realize that the right room is right there in front of us...the one we are in with one trusted ally. Or two.
All this my friends, should give career songwriters hope. It tells us that although it's not easy to get to the top of the charts (or be nominated for a Grammy) with a song that's not a slave to formula or a product of a well-oiled machine, it can be done. So thanks Kevin and Meghan for keeping the dream alive. Good luck to both of you on Feb 8th. The songwriter community will be watching.
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