Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013-14 NBA Preview

It’s that time of year again.  The NBA season is in the midst of kicking off, and here I am, ready to give you a quick look into the future at how everything will shake down by April, and who will walk away as the 2013-2014 NBA Champions.
Who will grow up in the East to make the playoffs?

At the top, the Eastern Conference is as good as it’s been in a long time, with three teams having a very good chance at beating anyone in the West. Once you move past the top three however, it quickly blurs into a murky picture of potential up-and-comers and veteran teams without the talent to make a difference. Here are the playoff seeds, in descending order.

8. Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, or Toronto Raptors

This might look like a cheap pick, but hear me out. If all things remain equal, I would put the Raptors here. They have the best squad overall of these three teams, but it is a near certainty that they will end up trading Rudy Gay to a fringe contender. Once that happens all bets are off; they will not have a go to guy in crunch time and flatly will not have the talent needed to score on a consistent basis. The Hawks are in a similar situation; they have two very solid big men in Al Horford and Paul Milsap complimented with frisky outside shooters. The problem in Atlanta is that they don’t really possess a major upside that will vault them into the upper half of the East. With this in mind, they are in prime condition to trade away talent, acquire as many draft picks as they can, and merrily tank their season away. That leaves the Bucks, who my gut tells me will end up in the 8th spot. The moves they’ve made signal that they are actually trying to win, and when the trade winds blow players out of Atlanta and Toronto, they will be the last team standing.

7. Brooklyn Nets

Surprise! Not only am I putting the much ballyhooed Nets in the 7th slot, I believe they’ll struggle mightily to get there and finish no more than three games ahead of the 8th seed. Most NBA analysts have Brooklyn cemented into the 4th seed, but this team reminds me way too much of last season’s Lakers club, who many picked to at least make the NBA finals. That squad had an injured Dwight Howard, old Kobe Bryant, old Pau Gasol, and really old Steve Nash surrounded by a bunch of terrible role players. Here are some of the ages of players for Brooklyn: Kevin Garnett – 37, Paul Pierce – 36, Jason Terry – 36, Joe Johnson – 32, Andrei Kirilenko – 32. These are all players that Brooklyn is going to rely on. The other two will be Brook Lopez and Deron Williams.  Brook Lopez should do fine offensively, but has never been a great defender or rebounder. At only 25 years old, I worry about his psyche after the 20th time KG berates him viciously for missing a defensive assignment. Deron Williams, enigmatic star of this group, is going to have to somehow get them to gel and keep himself positive, which he’s had trouble with in the past. Oh, and their coach is first-year man Jason Kidd, who I’m suddenly very worried for. If he’s unable to hold this team together through injuries and bad stretches of play, I see them having to fight hard for a playoff spot this year. Injured players and poor defense are just going to be too difficult for them to overcome and finish higher.

6. Washington Wizards

Seeds 4, 5, and 6 in the East will be clearly better than 7 and 8, but are also significantly worse than the top 3. Washington is at the bottom of this group, but they will be fun to watch. John Wall is going to be a man on a mission this year.  When he was healthy, he tore it up last season and really deserves to be mentioned among the top guards in the league. He and Bradley Beal are going to be a dynamite backcourt tandem this year, and as long as their frontcourt holds together, they shouldn’t have any problem securing this spot.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

Here is the middle team with by FAR the most upside. They have two players, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum, that could vault them up to the 4 seed and maybe even help them challenge for number 3. In Irving’s case, I expect a monster scoring year for him; he will be battling Kevin Durant for the scoring title in the final days of the season. Quite simply, there is hardly anything he cannot make the basketball do on the offensive end. I can’t be sure if Bynum can stay healthy this year, but if he does, there are precious few centers in the entire league that can match him on either end of the court. The last few years have been tough on him, but I think the prospect of playing with a young star like Irving, plus the incentives built into his contract that reward him for staying on the court are going to motivate him to actually give a crap this season and produce. Bynum, Anderson Varejao, and Tristan Thompson form an imposing rotation of big men that are going to make Cleveland’s defense passable enough to climb this high in the East.

4. Detroit Pistons

Detroit is going to ride the frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Josh Smith straight to the 4th seed in the East. Drummond and Monroe complement each other so well; Drummond lacking any offensive smoothness but is a defensive monster, and Monroe being a true post scorer who is often leaky on D.  Josh Smith is a very nice 2-way player who is going to make a difference all over the court; offensive rebounds, wing and post defense, hustle plays, etc. I’m not a huge Brandon Jennings fan, but I’m fine with him jacking up 25 shots per game if Drummond, Monroe, and Smith are there to gobble up rebounds and scoring easy put backs. The bench is a little thin, but this group is young enough to not have to rely on it too much. The future is bright in Detroit.

3. Indiana Pacers

If you’re a Pacers fan, you’re elated to have risen to the NBA’s elite circle, yet also bummed because you might feel that you’ve reached your peak and it’s not good enough. Last season, Roy Hibbert and Paul George both established themselves as true difference makers on the court, but neither are at the super elite level of say…..Dwight Howard/Tim Duncan or Lebron James/Kevin Durant. I honestly don’t know what you do if you’re Indiana. They have a great coach in Frank Vogel, but Chicago and Miami have equal to or better coaches. They play outstanding defense, but so do the Heat and Chicago. They have a premier perimeter player in George, but Rose and LeBron are both better. I love Indiana, Hibbert is one of my favorite players in the NBA, but if Miami and Chicago make it to the playoffs healthy, I just can’t see the Pacers advancing past either of them. Worse, I don’t see any moves they can make for the future to raise their status.

2. Miami Heat

There’s not much to say here, they have LeBron, they have two titles, and they execute their blitzkrieg game plan extremely well. If they are healthy, it’s going to be nearly impossible to beat them. However, they have two enormous question marks and their names are Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. It makes less difference if Oden gets hurt because Miami never really has had a true big man to rely on. If Oden can produce, watch out, they’ll have a force inside that they haven’t had since LeBron’s arrival. Beasley absolutely HAS to produce for them. If he cannot give them quality minutes to spell Chris Bosh and LeBron during the season and playoffs, I believe the Heat will wear down and not have enough gas to make it through the Eastern Conference playoff grind. Judging on both of Oden and Beasley’s histories, I think this is the end of Miami’s title hopes.

1. Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose. That should be all you need to know, but here’s a quick refresher. In the 2011 playoffs, Chicago took Miami to six games before bowing out. Derrick Rose hurts himself next year in the playoffs and then misses the following year entirely. With him back and Chicago having retained most of its gritty core, they are going to give the Heat all they can handle. It really bugged me last season to hear many analysts suggest that the Bulls blow up their roster. They are rugged as shit and Rose gives them a dynamic offensive creator and leader that they sorely missed during the last two playoffs. Had Rose been healthy then, it would not have surprised me at all if they had brought Miami down and maybe even won a title. Coach Thibodeau is going to have his defense firing on all cylinders this season, locking down teams night after night. This year, they’ll take down the Heat thanks to the NBA’s best record and home court advantage.

A Quick Note About the Knicks

Most people automatically penciled in New York as the 5 seed this year in the East. You know who this Knicks team reminds me of? The Kevin Garnett era Timberwolves. They have an elite player surrounded with NOTHING. Last year, New York opened up sizzling hot by putting on a two month 3-point shooting barrage that was an ANOMALY.  JR Smith should never be a critical member of your team, Ray Felton should not be a starting NBA point guard, Tyson Chandler is 31 years old, and the only player who can play defense on the team is Iman Shumpert. The Knicks are heading for a huge implosion that’s going to end with Carmelo Anthony burying his team by taking 40 shots per game.

       Who Will Survive the Bloodbath in the West?

In contrast to the East, the West is much deeper from seeds one through eight, though probably not quite as power-packed at the top. The first six seeds are all but locked in, with the final two spots being hotly contested between five teams. Again, playoff seeds are listed in descending order.

8. Denver Nuggets

Losing Andre Iguodala is going to absolutely kill them. He was a versatile wing defender who could also create some offense from time to time. If they want to climb higher than the 8th seed, JaVale McGee is going to have to take a major step forward and become a center who makes a consistent difference on both ends of the court. Kenneth Faried reminds me a lot of Serge Ibaka, lots of highlight blocks and ally-oops, but lacking a solid game all around. Ty Lawson is going to emerge as an upper echelon point guard, but he’s always going to be outclassed by the Chris Pauls, Tony Parkers, and Russell Westbrooks of the league. If Dano Gallinari was healthy out of the gates, I’d project them a little bit higher, but not enough to make a difference.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves

Alright, my hometown squad! If you don’t think the Wolves can make the playoffs remember this; Kevin Love is a 25 point-14 rebound player who can shoot 3’s and pass very well. When he’s clicking, he’s arguably a top 10 player in the league and that should be enough on its own to carry this team to 40 wins. Ricky Rubio cannot shoot, but he could create offense for a blind man and has been a surprisingly good defender. Rubio is going to rack up assists to Love, Nikola Pekovic, and Kevin Martin all season. I’m bullish on Shabazz Muhammad. With Chase Budinger going down to injury, I think Shabazz has a very good shot at finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting; he can flat out score. People complain that he doesn’t accrue assists, but that’s Rubio’s job, Muhammad’s job is to get buckets. Corey Brewer will help some on defense, but the bottom line is that Minnesota is going to be terrible on that end. However, the Steve Nash Phoenix Suns played zero defense and I remember them making the Western Conference Finals. The Wolves aren’t there yet, but if they can keep Love and Rubio, they’re a team on the rise.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Welcome to the Grind House! I love this team, but they are so completely devoid of shooters that it’s scary. Quincy Pondexter is a great off the bench scoring guard but he’s almost their number one wing scorer. That’s a problem. That being said, the trio of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley will be elite if Conley can take his game up one more level. Memphis is the first team on the playoff list that could go on a run and make (and possibly win) the Western Conference Finals.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

This team reminds me of a younger version of the Brooklyn Nets with one difference; none of their players outside of Chris Paul have proven themselves in the playoffs. Much has been made about Doc Rivers coming in the coach them, but I’ve never thought he was an elite coach. He was giftwrapped a Celtics squad of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, and Garnett and came away with ONE title. I love CP3, but Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are a pair of twins who don’t bring it on defense and get schooled consistently by savvy big men in the playoffs. They are stacked with wing players who can shoot 3’s, but I fear that when the playoffs come, they’re going to get scouted and locked down. If Rivers can actually coach this team into something that can play defense and if he can transform the Griffin-Jordan tandem into something that won’t wilt in the playoffs, they’ll be very dangerous. I just don’t believe Doc can do it; they’ll be bounced in round one.

4. Golden State Warriors

Golden State’s entire season hinges on two things: Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut’s health. Curry is the Warriors’ rally point. When he’s playing well and lighting up the scoreboard, they are nearly uncontainable. If his ankle causes him to miss time though, suddenly the Warriors lack a reliable go-to scorer. Bogut provides the Warriors with a good rim protector and all around defensive presence. If he goes down, they’re in big trouble. They have Andre Iguodala to solidify the wing defensively, but if Bogut goes down, they won’t have any interior defense. If somehow Bogut and Curry stay healthy, the Warriors could run roughshod in the West and possibly claim the number three seed.

3. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs were the hardest team for me to project. You know they’re going to manage their older core’s minutes, and you would think that would hurt them significantly. However, they’ve been doing this for years now and consistently finishing in the upper reaches of the West. The difference for them this year will be a breakout season by Kawhi Leonard. He’s like a Paul George twin who doesn’t shoot quite as well, but defends and rebounds at a higher level. The formula for the Spurs has been to cruise effectively during the season, then have Coach Popovich run circles around every other team in the playoffs (which nearly won them the title last year). They won’t excite during the regular season, but watch out during the playoffs.

2. Houston Rockets

James Harden, Dwight Howard, and a solid supporting cast are going to carry Houston to the 2nd seed in the West. Dwight was hurt last year and I believe that he HATED playing with Kobe Bryant. Now in Houston, he’ll be facing less pressure and scrutiny. Healthy Dwight alone is a force of nature, and pairing him with Harden will only add on to that. During the season when the pressure is lessened, I think that this team is going to run and gun their way to a great record and then face a much more difficult challenge in the playoffs.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

Most analysts are down on the Thunder due to the injury of Russell Westbrook and the loss of Kevin Martin. I feel like those analysts forget that Kevin Durant plays for this team and just how good he is. This is how I explain the NBA hierarchy of players: LeBron is the best player in the world. The gap between LeBron and Durant is very wide. The gap between Durant and the rest of the league is more of a chasm. Durant is a ridiculous 6’10” freak who can score from absolutely anywhere on the court at any time. I’ve seen Durant hit so many outrageous pull up jump shots from different locations that I’m convinced he’s going to shoot 100% percent in a playoff game this year with 50 points. We watched LeBron carry several Cleveland teams to excellent regular season records, and I fully expect Durant to do the same this year. He is going to go bananas for however long Westbrook is out, and when the Thunder are back at full strength, they will cruise to the number one seed as San Antonio will be in coasting most of the season.

The Playoffs

The West:
One of my favorite NBA playoff traditions is watching the Spurs, who usually jog through the regular season, slice and dice nearly every playoff opponent with brilliant coaching and razor sharp execution. They will win an ugly series against Memphis and then run circles around a poorly coached Rockets squad to make the Western Finals. The Thunder will roll through Denver and outscore Golden State on their path to the Conference Finals, where they will sneak past an out-of-gas Spurs team.

The East:
Here is where the seeding becomes crucial. If the Bulls get the one seed, they will get to feast on far inferior Bucks and Pistons clubs during the first two rounds. The Heat, having the two seed, will face two grueling series’ against Brooklyn and Indiana, and then they’ll have to go up against Chicago. When I started formulating these playoff seeds, I guessed that whoever had homecourt in the Eastern Finals would win out in seven games just because Miami and Chicago match up so evenly. Chicago is going to end up with that 1 seed, and on the shoulders of Derrick Rose, advance to the NBA Finals.

The Finals:
As great as I think Kevin Durant is going to perform in the regular season and playoffs, the Bulls’ defense is just too crushing for him to get past. The Thunder lack a reliable big man who can post up and cause problems for Chicago’s front line. With Noah, Boozer, and Gibson freed up and able to clog the paint, the Thunder will have to make it rain from outside in order to stand a chance. I don’t think it can happen. Chicago cruises to their first post Michael Jordan title this year.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Grammys: A Running Diary

6:40pm – Well, I’ve tuned into E! TV to watch a little Red Carpet action. This was a mistake, going back to basketball immediately.

7:00 –IT’S ON!!

7:03 – I imagine whoever designed the visual theme for Taylor Swift’s opening was high on weed, crack, and acid all at the same time. What is this, a magician hallucination show? Is anyone other than me seeing that Rabbit and thinking of Donnie Darko?

7:05 - It’s 2013 and LL Cool J is hosting the Grammys? This is where we’ve arrived today? He just called Swift “T Swizzle.”

7:08 – LL gave his Grammys to his “Grammy,” a great joke because NO ONE HAS EVER CONNECTED THE WORDPLAY POTENTIAL OF GRAMMYS WITH GRANDMOTHERS BEFORE!!!

7:13 - Commercial break ramblings. They just gave a preview of the show/performances. Justin Timberlake should make up for the fact that I cringed at everything I saw. Can we all agree that he’s been gone too long? His absence has been a terrible loss for music.

7:15 – Taylor Swift has also taken over the commercials? The odds of me smashing my skull in with a hammer just increased 200%

7:20 – Best Pop Solo performance? I’m pulling for Carly Rae, mostly because of my dislike for the other nominees. However, predictably, Adle wins.

7:21 – I’m convinced Adele has Greg Oden disease. 24 years old? Really? How about 34?

7:25 – Wow, not afraid to say it, Fun just put on a very good performance. I wish that’s what their recorded music actually sounded like. The rain that actually came down and fell on them was a nice touch.

7:32 – Here’s a fun game. Accurately predict how many women in the crowd John Mayer has slept with. Additionally, thank God Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley are performing right now. I was in desperate need of a bathroom break.

7:39 – Is this the Grammys or the LL Cool J appreciation show?

7:42 – The conversation when voting on best Country Solo Performance: Guy1: “Whoa, Carrie Underwood is a nominee? She’s in.” Guy2: “What about Eric Church?” Guy1: “Carrie has boobs, man.” Guy2: “Boobs?” Guy1: “Yeah.” Guy2: “Sorry Eric Church.“

7:43 – To clarify that last comment, I’d heard from multiple people that Eric Church was a lock for that Grammy.

7:48 – Have you ever wondered where the ads that got rejected from the Super Bowl went? Watch the Grammys.

7:50 - You’re pushing it LL. First, stop reading the most obvious tweets, you’re empowering the idiots. Second, how dare you shout out the East Coast storm and not the Midwest. We just got dumped on too a-hole.

7:51 – Ahhh, Tim McGraw, the man responsible for the death of country music. F**k you and your motherf*****g plastic cowboy hat.

7:52 – Whoa, The Song of the Year award already? I’d be mad about We Are Young winning this because it’s awful, but all of the other nominees were just as terrible.  Fun is being played off the stage during their acceptance speech. Excellent.

7:59 – Whoa, performance/highlight of the night thus far by Mumford and Sons. Have fun trying to beat that, everyone else. Mumford proves that you don’t always have to go big and extravagant. Just be good, be passionate, and care about what you’re doing. Excellent excellent performance by them.

8:04 – Wow, Ellen DeGeneres just made Beyoncé look foolish while they were introducing Justin Timberlake. I LOVED that.

8:11 - Sorry Mumford. You just got outplayed. Justin Timberlake took the stage and just blew everyone away.

8:12 – What the hell constitutes an Urban Contemporary Album? Doesn’t matter, if channel ORANGE doesn’t win, it’s a farce.

8:13 – And Frank Ocean wins. I heard someone on the radio call his album a “hipster” album? Seriously? channel ORANGE is the best album I’ve heard since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Speaking of, where is Kanye? Why haven’t I seen him yet?

8:21 – Best Rock Performance. I don’t think The Black Keys can lose this one. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand, I was correct. Why was Mumford and Sons a nominee in this category? I would not classify their music as “rock.”

8:25 – I have never seen Alicia Keyes without a piano. Not only is she without one now, but she’s playing the drums. She’s also displayed what I consider to be the first wardrobe violation of the evening. The bottom of her breasts are clearly visible.

8:28 – Best Pop Vocal Album? What does that even mean? Looks like Fun is the favorite here. But alas, the Recording Academy shocks us and votes for Kelly Clarkson. I didn’t even know she had released an album this year up until eight days ago.

8:30 – Kelly Clarkson is drunk.

8:36 – Which Rihanna are we getting tonight for this performance? Out of control partying Rihanna or mega-talented musician Rihanna?

8:38 – Mega-talented musician Rihanna.

8:41 – Jay-Z and Kanye West proving yet again they are the best in music, period. Church in the Wild is probably the worst song on their album and they STILL won Best Rap Collaboration. CAN SOMEONE TELL ME WHERE KANYE IS!!!!!!?????

8:45 – I’d like to take this moment to point out that Twitter is making LL Cool J  increasingly stupid. Now he’s saying “hashtag” in front of everything. How many IQ points do you think he’s lost during the course of the night?

8:49 – I’m excited for this performance. Let’s see how the Black Keys sound live.

8:52 – The brass ensemble that the Black Keys incorporated into their performance absolutely ruined it; muddled their sound horribly. That was bad.

8:53 – Uh oh, drunk Kelly is back, and she’s singing.

8:56 – She recovered quite nicely, knocked that song out of the park. AND she gets to present for Best Country Album. Zac Brown Band won. Yawn.

8:59 – Yeah, good choice Grammy Academy, when I think “Tribute to Bob Marley” I think Bruno Mars and Sting.

9:05 – Don’t expect me to comment on this Bob Marley tribute. I was never into his music. This is going to bore me. Another bathroom break.

9:10 – Random shots of the crowd dancing. My favorites thus far: Jay-Z holding a glass of what I presume to be hard liquor. Taylor Swift because she’s an awful dancer. Adele because she looks completely unimpressed. Chris Brown because they’ve cut to him almost every time they’ve showed Rihanna, like we’re in an alternate reality where he didn’t beat the shit out of her.

9:12 – Let’s remember we just honored a musician who is well-known for using/promoting the use of illegal drugs.

9:15 – Another commercial break. As we near the finish, my opinion thus far has that it’s been a very solid show. Even though there have certainly been performances featuring music I don’t care for, none them have been really really bad. The program has run along at a nice clip. The only glaring negative is LL Cool J. His hosting abilities are less than desirable.

9:18 – As the Lumineers perform on stage at the Grammys, I have a burning question. What will the hipsters turn to now that indie music has become popular?

9:21 – I IMPLORE you to listen to some of Jack White’s music, be it his solo album or work as a member of The White Stripes. He creates some fairly unique music. Happy for him that he is performing at the Grammys.

9:26 – What an awesome performance by Jack White. My new highlight of the night. Now Katy Perry is presenting the Best New Artist Award.

9:27 - Fun robs Frank Ocean for Best New Artist. I can’t say I’m shocked by that outcome, however much I disagree with it. Frank Ocean deserved that award.

9:37 – Coachella brought us hologram 2pac. The Grammys bring us a Carrie Underwood laser-dress. Coachella 1, Grammys 0.

9:39 – Here comes Record of the Year. Presented by Prince! I think Lonely Boy ought to win and We Are Young will win.

9:41 - To say stunning is an understatement. Somebody That I Used To Know wins? I’m not saying it wasn’t a great song, but when compared with that field…not in their class.

9:44 – That last award really left me at a loss for who will win album of the year. Odds were that Fun would win 3 of 4 major awards. They’ve only won once so far. I can’t say that anyone has an upper hand at this point.

9:50 – Anytime Ryan Seacrest is shown on TV, everyone loses.

9:52 – The president of the Recording Academy called Justin Timberlake his friend. I bet he wasn’t invited to JT’s wedding.

9:58 – The beauty of Elton John is that he can perform at every Grammy Awards show. With his voice and piano skill, he can accompany most songs.

10:10 – Interesting, they’ve brought out the winner for Best Latin Pop Album who’s chosen to sing a quick rendition of Elton John’s “This is Your Song.”

10:11 – Yikes, Frank Ocean, I’m ecstatic that you’re performing tonight, but you could not have picked a worse song off of your album. Honestly, it’s the worst one on it.

10:13 – I feel awful for Frank right now. He didn’t have to sing Thinkin Bout You and Crack Rock probably would not have been Grammy-appropriate, but why not Pink Matter? It is so much better while retaining a soft non big band style. Such a mistake, a huge huge mistake.

10:16 – And now Adele presents Album of the Year. Wow! Another upset. Babel by Mumford and Sons wins. I’m not even angered by this, I’m just happy that Fun did not win.

10:23 – While we’re on this commercial break, let’s just reflect upon the fact that Drake’s Take Care won Best Rap Album. If he had lost that he would have been the victim of the two greatest Grammy robberies ever (lost Best New Artist in 2011).

10:24 – LL Cool J is the rap performer tonight instead of Kendrick Lamar. Let that sink in.

10:29 – And it’s over. My final thoughts:


1.)    LL Cool J is a terrible host. This is a problem that needs to be rectified immediately. His jokes are not funny, he does not promote social media well, and is not humble enough to put the show before himself. He was the most glaring blemish on the show by far.
2.)     Even though there was a fair amount that didn't feature music/musicians I don't care for, I would say that all of the performances were solid tonight, with no major SNAFU's.

3.)    Mumford and Sons were excellent, Justin Timberlake was better, Jack White was the best. Three great performances tonight and the highlights of the show.

4.)    Speaking of Mumford, I’m happy they won album of the year over Fun., even if it was at the expense of Frank Ocean. I love watching Mumford perform live, they have so much passion and you can easily see how much they love creating music.

5.)    Speaking of Frank Ocean, by far the saddest/most disappointed moment of my night was his performance. He chose Forest Gump, really? It’s an ok song but every other song on his album is better. There is simple no excuse why he didn’t sing Pink Matter, Thinkin Bout You, or Crack Rock over Forest Gump. In particular, Pink Matter because it is a simple song of very high quality. He could have won a lot of people over tonight and squandered the opportunity.

6.)    I understand that Kendrick Lamar’s album was released after the Grammy deadline, but why stonewall him for these awards? He could have at least performed a verse of one of his songs.

7.)    WHERE IS KANYE WEST!!!!!?????????


That’s all for this year. All in all, a great show, let’s hope next year’s Grammys can build on this.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Least Favorite Songs And My Own Personal Grammys

                With all of the hoopla that the Grammys provides about deciding the best of music, I thought it’d be interesting to take a trip down my own memory and deliberate on what was the WORST of all music I’ve ever heard. As I stated in my previous post, it seems a bit silly to me to declare what is the best or worst of music in any given year, so these are strictly my opinion. When I created this group of atrociousness, I had to make some guidelines. Poor quality of music in my eyes could not be the only factor. Otherwise I would just pick out a random death metal album and pick five songs from it. In order to make my five worst songs of all time, there had to something that reached me on a significant emotional level. Something that just objected to everything I think is right and good in this world. Because of that, some songs that land in this list are not terrible musically. In fact, you may enjoy them. Hear me out though, and understand why each of these five songs is atrocious. Following the list, I’ll pick the Grammy winners (and new nominations) according to my grading scale.

5.) Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 – Bob Dylan
This is the only song that makes it on the list almost entirely because of the music quality. I have no reservations; I vehemently dislike Dylan’s music. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to tell someone that I hate Bob Dylan’s music. He/she’s reaction will tell me how narrow-minded that person is. The most frequent response I receive is “I can’t take your opinion on music seriously if you don’t like/understand Bob Dylan.” That is one of the most ridiculous proclamations I hear. Just because I don’t like one musician, all my view on music are invalid? Nonsense. My stance on Dylan is that yeah, he was a hell of a songwriter, but his musical talent was awful. This song is a perfect demonstration of that. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me. You can listen to a short preview here on Amazon. Just because Dylan was a brilliant writer does NOT mean he was a good musician. Think about it, if I was somehow gifted in the art of writing successful music, I still would not perform it due to my lack of musical talent (awful voice, cannot play instruments). I feel the same way about Dylan; brilliant writer, but he should have let other people sing his lyrical gems.

4.) The Bad Touch – Bloodhound Gang
Ugh, This song could not have been released at a worse time for me. I was just entering adolescence when The Bad Touch became a radio sensation, and it depicted images that I shouldn’t have quite yet been exposed to. Had this song been released in my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, etc…, I would not hold it in such poor favor, but being popular during my formative years with such vulgarity has forever scarred me emotionally. I will never forgive The Bad Touch for making me feel immensely uncomfortable in my transition from child to young adult. The song and video can been accessed via this link.

3.) Redneck Yacht Club – Craig Morgan
There are a LOT of current country songs that could vie to make this list, but Redneck Yacht Club holds a special place of disdain in my heart. As I wrote in an earlier post, I fully believe that Tim McGraw ushered in the death of traditional country music. Well, Redneck Yacht Club pounded the final nail in the coffin. There is nothing more anti-country music than a yacht club, yet that is what this track elevates. It stands for everything that true country music stands against. And yes, I’ve heard the counterpoint, “but it’s not about real yachts!” plenty of times already. The concept is still the same. Can you imagine a country artist making this song 30 years ago? I think not. For this reason, Redneck Yacht Club lands itself at number three on my most hated songs of all time. If you want to torture yourself, the music video can be viewed here

 2.) Kim – Eminem
My friend and I sometimes debate on what is the better Eminem album, The Marshall Mathers LP or The Eminem Show. I will always pick the latter because the former has the song Kim on its track list. This is one of the most vulgar and hateful songs that I have ever had the misfortune of listening to. It honestly makes me never want to listen to the album. I really can’t speak anymore on this song because it disturbs me so much. If you want to hear it, AND I STRONGLY SUGGEST NOT LISTENING TO IT, I am providing a link here.

1.)    Single Ladies – Beyoncé Knowles
I’ll preface this paragraph by saying that I generally enjoy Beyoncé. I believe that she is actually quite talented and has handled/marketed herself very well for years as opposed to other female singers (think Britney Spears). However, nothing makes me bristle like her song Single Ladies. Maybe it’s because I’m a man, but having to witness countless young women flock to a dance floor over and over again in a trance to this song, like it somehow is an anthem disgusts me. I don’t mean to berate the act of proposing marriage to a woman, but for some reason, having women proclaim that men are fools if they do not propose or “put a ring on it,” is preposterous to me. I have an inborn vendetta against engagement rings in first place (every kiss begins with Kay, seriously?), but this song somehow communicates to me that men are stupid for not proposing to a woman that they’re dating, even when the divorce rate in America is over 50%. This song to me is less about women’s empowerment and more about women’s obsessions with glitzy engagement rings. If you wish to subject yourself to this song, here is the music video.

                Now that we’ve concluded that exhibition in awfulness, let’s get to what I think the Grammys should reflect. These are all my personal favorites, so the selections here have their limits (not hearing a song/album, disliking certain genres). I’m also throwing out Grammy rules and picking songs/albums/artists explicitly for the year 2012 (the Grammy window for this year’s awards is October 2011-September 2012). Furthermore I’m creating a couple new/different categories: There is only song of the year. Not song and record as the Academy deems. Album of the year stands, Best New Artist stands, but there is also another major category I think is relevant; Artist of the Year.

Song of the Year:
Thinkin Bout You – Frank Ocean
Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst – Kendrick Lamar
Good Kid – Kendrick Lamar
Survival – Muse
Panic Station – Muse
Mercy – G.O.O.D Music
King Wizard – Kid Cudi
Super Rich Kids – Frank Ocean
Erase Me – Ben Folds Five
Sixteen – Rick Ross

It’s a tie! If it were a song by itself, Sing About Me by Kendrick Lamar would easily win this category. It simply has the best beat and the most compelling (and true) story of all of the nominees. However, halfway through, it changes its format in a way that greatly takes away from the beginning five and a half minutes. That being said, King Wizard and Good Kid have to tie in bringing home song of the year. King Wizard is entirely produced by Kid Cudi, preluding and album he has produced entirely by himself and that he claims will be the best ever and no one can touch. In his song he lets us know that he still can rhyme and has added production to his arsenal. Good Kid captures exactly what makes Kendrick Lamar’s album so great; featuring lyrics that illustrate a real situation, a hook that draws you in, and a beat that makes you want to nod your head. There simply cannot be a single victor between the two of them. Sixteen by Rick Ross garners a mention in that it’s over eight minutes long and is outstanding for its entire runtime. Its success is cemented by Andre3000 spitting nearly a five minute verse. For those that cannot listen to a song that runs more than four minutes, I implore you to listen to Sixteen, it will be worth it. A few other notes, both songs by Frank Ocean and Survival by Muse are worthy, but I think all three of those songs will fall out of favor once they are listened to extensively. This is a common phenomenon, you can “kill” a song by over-listening, and those three are prime candidates for that. Lastly, it may surprise you that Erase Me by the Ben Folds Five was my runner-up in this category. I readily admit that I have a soft spot for Folds, but I believe that this song can stand up with the best of them. What was the difference between Erase Me, King Wizard, and Good Kid? King Wizard and Good Kid both have an emotional base that Erase Me just does not. Kid Cudi and Kendrick Lamar made an excellent track with feeling while Ben Folds just made an excellent song. In any case, I STRONGLY encourage you to YouTube all of the songs listed and give them a shot. Perhaps your favorite is different, but you will be sampling good music.

Album of the Year:
good kid, m.A.A.d city – Kendrick Lamar
channel ORANGE – Frank Ocean
Red – Taylor Swift
The 2nd Law­ – Muse
Unapologetic – Rihanna

I’m not including El Camino by the Black Keys here because it was released late 2011. Even though I have not listened to either, Rihanna and Swifts’ albums both make the nominees here because of their popularity. I’m not one to completely deny an artist’s impact, and when you can sell millions of records in the fashion that Rihanna and Swift can, you need to be considered for album of the year. Unfortunately for them, the best album in 2012 was Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE. If you assume I’m making this choice based on my dislike of Taylor, you’re wrong. Even though I dislike her music, I respect Taylor Swift. However, she doesn’t have more than one iconic song on her Red album; the only one I have heard of is We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. When considering good kid, m.A.A.d city it’s important to remember that a few excellent songs doesn’t always make an album outstanding. When listening to Kendrick’s album, there will always be that handful of tracks that I will skip. Frank Ocean’s album is solid through and through; there are no musical lulls in it, and it’s an album that I can listen to all the way through without having an urge to skip a song. Ocean’s consistency, mixed with a hit on more than few tracks, win him 2012’s album of the year. I encourage you to at least sample it via whatever method you can.

Best New Artist:

Kendrick Lamar
Frank Ocean

This really is only a two-horse race, and Kendrick wins. You can argue that the group Fun should be in here all you want, but honestly, what have they produced other than the song We Are Young? Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean both released albums that were incredible through and through. Yes, I understand that Kendrick debuted in 2011, but good kid, m.A.A.d city was his breakout debut. Kendrick has reinvigorated rap with a new voice capable of carrying the mantle to the next generation. Frank Ocean is simply continuing a line of R&B crooners that are extraordinarily talented and can make good music.

Artist of the Year:

Taylor Swift
Kendrick Lamar
Frank Ocean
Mumford & Sons
Carly Rae Jepsen

             As much as this pains me, I have to award artist of the year to Taylor Swift. When awarding the best artist, you have to not only consider music quality, but general popularity and impact. Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Mumford & Sons have the musical quality to make them perennial contenders for this award, but they have yet to make the impact of music’s top stars. Carly Rae Jepsen, Psy, and Rihanna, are all names that people recognize, but have flaws in what they’ve produced this year. Only Taylor Swift, with her thralls of fans, has managed to produce music at a high level while remaining culturally significant. Because of this, she has rightfully earned the title of 2012 artist of the year.

That concludes my version of this year’s Grammy awards. Feel free to disagree and contemplated any or all of my selections. The point here is not to yell and name-call, but to really think what was the highest quality and successful music of the year. Are your nominees/winners different? It’s up to you to figure it out before the Grammys tell you that you’re wrong…

Friday, February 8, 2013

Music Meets Snobbery: The Grammys

                Depending on who you are, music can serve a variety of different purposes.  For some, it’s what keeps them going during early morning traffic jams on the way to work. Others, an acute depiction of their feelings and where their life currently stands. Still for more, it can be simply background noise to break through the void of silence in their homes. By the by, music plays a role in all of our lives, and even though we all enjoy it to some extent, it seems that everyone has different views about what constitutes the “best” in music. However, as surefire and foolproof as we think our ideas may be, is it really worth even thinking about music this way?  The answer to that question follows.

                Several months ago, I was driving with a female coworker of mine when Lady Gaga’s Born This Way played on the stereo. My coworker immediately became very excited and turned up the volume. When the exuberant chorus began, she could not help but belt it out (quite loudly) along with the music. Needless to say, she is not a singer by any definition and my kneejerk reaction was to berate her singing ability (unfortunately this didn’t stop her). A week or so later, we were sitting in the office when I offered up a mini-revelation that I had had to her. I told her that I had been foolhardy in criticizing her singing. I explained that everyone must have that one song (or many songs) that they just cannot help but sing (yell) loudly along with. There is a part of their emotion that is tapped by that song, and it simply overwhelms them. I am not particularly a fan of the song Born This Way, but my coworker is, and she was compelled to sing with it. I had thought about it and came to the conclusion that I have sang along poorly and loudly to MANY songs of my liking in the same fashion, and judging from my coworker’s music tastes, she would also think that I was being a moron. The reality is that we both have our own preferences, neither of us is wrong to sing along with our songs because they reach us differently on our own emotional levels. This begs the question, what is good/bad music?

                I believe that today’s country is horrific, death metal is unlistenable, and Taylor Swift is some incarnation of the devil. However, there are thousands of people that think just the opposite on each of those counts (probably millions in the Taylor Swift example). How can we know which viewpoint (along with millions of others) is correct? Enter the Grammy Awards. Here we have a system/event that can “definitively” determine the value of the music that has been released year by year. Do people ever fully agree with the Grammy results? No. The ironic part of that last question is that even though we love disagreeing with the Grammy results, deep down, we are the Grammys.

                For as much as music lovers everywhere piss and moan about Grammy results, they are very quick to offer up their own opinions about what was the best and worst music of the year/decade/century. I am no different, I regularly have conversations with a friend of mine about what the album or song of the year was. The more I ponder it however, the more I realize that this way of thinking is wrong. I have no qualification to comment on what the album/song of the year is. For instance, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (Kendrick Lamar) and channel ORANGE (Frank Ocean) are my favorites for album the year, but I haven’t heard the album El Camino (The Black Keys) yet. El Camino has garnered considerable momentum for being one of the best albums of 2012, but because I have not yet listened to it, it is out of contention for me. I am just one person, and there are countless songs and albums that I did not hear in the year 2012, so how can I possibly be qualified to ordain the best or worst music of that year? This doesn’t just go for me, but for everyone. Consider the mass volume of music that must be released every year and the amount of it that you never even hear.

                Even if we are limited by our collective inability to listen to every album and song that was released in a given year, there must be some existing value system that allows us to narrow down what truly were the best and worst of that year. Wrong, no such system is in play, meaning that all musical judgments are subjective. The flaw here is that music clearly affects people in different ways depending on their tastes. Consider this exchange between me and my cousin. He is a steadfast supporter of indie music and shies (if not runs) away from anything mainstream. I started to play a song (cannot recall which one exactly) that was a generic party/dance song popular at the time. He asked me if I was serious, that this was something that his 12 year old niece would listen to on the radio, and promptly changed the song to something more agreeable with his taste. I mulled over that exchange for some time. Why would a song on the radio be bad? Isn’t that the point of music? To be excellent and gain notoriety through that excellence, hopefully garnering national attention by receiving radio play?

                The Grammys are no different in this regard; each member of the Recording Academy (people who can vote) is different. I did a little digging and found this article that goes into a little detail about how the Grammy voters are determined. According to the article, there are a certain amount of “experts” that decide on the nominees and then vote on them. What determines being an expert in music? To quote the article,

 To become a voting member of the association an individual must be a music industry professional with creative or technical credits on six commercially released tracks (or their equivalent). These may include vocalists, conductors, songwriters, composers, engineers, producers, instrumentalists, arrangers, art directors, album notes writers, narrators and music video artists and technicians.”

 That’s it, that’s all you need. There are further restrictions on voting jurisdiction and frequency, but if you want to know what they are, go ahead and read the article. The point here is that there is a fairly lenient process by which the Grammy voters are selected. I readily admit, I’ve never worked on a music project, but does working on a minimum of six qualify you to be an expert? While I’m sure that some (perhaps many) of that “expert” group have a dearth of musical knowledge and know-how, can it really be more than a fair share of normal people that aren’t a part of the Recording Academy?

                Compiling on that problem is that the Recording Academy has no criteria to draw from in order to choose winners and losers. Just think about it, college football has the BCS system currently and a record of each team’s wins and losses and yet we STILL cannot reach a consensus of who the national champion is each year. In music no such easy guidelines exist. Sure, there are record sales, but does that accurately depict what the good and bad music of the year was? One Direction, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift have legions of fans who will buy their albums no matter how poor their music is, whereas many independent musicians produce superior music that goes unnoticed and unheard each year because the general public simply does not know that they exist. You could maybe make a case for how well an artist sings as a voting criterion, but then you automatically disqualify rap, EDM, many forms of metal, and plenty of soul-type music, all of which are not known to be strong singing genres. Also, with today’s technology, is the ability to sing really a measure of greatness? Purists will answer that question “yes,” but honestly, isn’t today’s music more about creating a track or album that really gets in touch with its audience. Be it by vocals, background music, storytelling, or pace, music overall is more than just an artist’s singing ability.

                It would be nice if the Recording Academy had a webpage where they specifically explained their process in voting and what aspects of music they looked at while they cast their votes for the Grammys. For them, it would be an intelligent move in that they could definitively say what it was that made them choose a certain song, album, or performance as their winner in each category. For example, in 2011, Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist. I was stunned, mostly because for me, Drake was clearly the best new artist of that year. When I looked closely at the field of nominees Esperanza defeated, I was even more shocked. Justin Bieber, Mumford & Sons, Florence + The Machine, and the aforementioned Drake; I would have easily picked any of them before Esperanza, but somehow she still managed victory. Since that time, I’ve listened to some of her music, and while I admit that she’s quite talented, I simply can’t understand how she received the votes to win. If an artist like Esperanza Spalding wins Best New Artist, we should not be seeing other artists who are more well-known winning the bigger awards (record of the year, artist of the year, etc…). Those awards should be going to the truly musically gifted, such as Spalding.

                In the end, the Grammys have made it difficult for us to decipher what they are, and in turn difficult to make a clear-cut choice on what the best music of the year is. It almost seems as though the Recording Academy is feeling a pressure to vote on what is truly the most popular and listened to music of the year (think Call Me Maybe, Gangnam Style, and anything Taylor Swift), but also feels obligated to show that they have a sort of higher knowledge about music than the rest of us. Again I return to the 2011 Grammy awards. Arcade Fire’s album, The Suburbs, won the prestigious Album of the Year award. I’d never heard of them, and would venture to guess they were by far the least known of all the nominees. A couple of days later, I bought their album and listened to it extensively. I admit that it is good, but looking back now, was it really the album of that year? I do not think so, and attribute their victory to the Recording Academy flexing their musical knowledge and parading the idea that they somehow know more than the average person. Is that really the right viewpoint to take when declaring the best and worst of music? I don’t know; the millions of records that Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift sell are hard to argue with. If that many people clamor to acquire that music, it has to be worth something, right? On the flipside, even though we probably agree that Mozart is a far better musician that Justin Bieber, is there any doubt that Bieber would sell far more records if both were making music today? How can we really tell what the best is? I’m not entirely certain myself, but I do know this, the Grammys Recording Academy will make their decision. After they do, I’ll applaud and complain their choices, and immediately begin jamming to my own, personal, favorite song of the year. Nobody can take that away from me, and I won’t give a damn how few or many awards that song has won, it’s my song.