Molly, Why Were They Nominated For A Grammy And Not Me?
Many of my clients have asked me why I think certain artists were nominated for Grammys, and others weren't. Some of my clients even suggested it was all about PR and hype. While I understand the value of publicity, there still has to be something worth publicizing, and even in the music business, hype alone cannot get an artist a deal and certainly not a Grammy nomination. There has to be substance, too, some ground-breaking originality. By reading my evaluations of the work of three female artists nominated this year, you should see the reasons for their success.
l. Alanis Morissette is bold, crude, fragile and blatantly honest. She has a distinctive voice, both vocally and in terms of her expression. Her style is uniquely hers, and her lyrics couldn't have been written by anyone but her. The collaboration with Glen Ballard on "Jagged Little Pill" makes her melodies very accessible and easy to remember.
Were Morissette a painter, we could tell in one glance whose work it was, as we can with Picasso. She has good songwriting skills, crafting interesting, well-structured melodies with rhythmic surprises, and her lyrics are just like dialogue - completely conversational. She makes no attempt to rhyme, which gives her the freedom to say exactly what she wants to say. Usually rhyme is a necessary ingredient in holding a song together, but I didn't notice its absence here a bit.
2. Joan Osborne is a thoughtful, poetic, singer/songwriter. While not quite so conversational in tone as Morissette, she is every bit as vulnerable and honest. Her rock songs are well structured, tell us things we haven't heard before in a way that hasn't been used before, as in "Man in The Long Black Coat". Her song, "One of Us", is melodic, gentle, thoughtful, blasphemous, tender as a lullaby and tough as rock 'n roll. No one would ever accuse Ms. Osborne of imitation. She didn't Xerox anyone or anything to become who she is as a singer/songwriter. She's the original.
3. Joni Mitchell continues to stretch her shadow in "Turbulent Indigo." No one could reign over the music business as long as she has without her special songcrafting talents and production skills. She is angry, intellectual, poetic, and a good story teller. Her song titles - "The Magdalene Laundries", "Yvette in English" and "Turbulent Indigo" are instantly appealing - not the "I miss you baby and it's raining" that lesser artists have settled for.
Her melodies are disappointing, and I assume, purposefully tuneless and "unsingalongable", considering the instant accessibility of her early work and the ease with which she used to write strong musical hooks. Frankly, had she not already been "Joni Mitchell", with a thirty year track record, I doubt she'd have found a home for this album, in spite of its brilliant production and dazzling lyrics. Still, listening to Mitchell is always satisfying from an intellectual point of view. Her lyrics make me think of her as a poet who sings and plays the guitar. "Doctors pills give you brand new ills/and the pills bury you like an avalanche/and lawyers haven't been this popular/since Robspierre slaughtered half of France."
Listening to her work is like looking at a painting that catches your eye the first time you see it, and each subsequent time you look at it, you see something new to dazzle you. Her songs are well-structured treasures of carefully chosen lyrics. Listening to her, you know within two syllables who it is, and that what she's telling you is news. That's the mark of a great artist.
Each of these singer/songwriters contributes her whole self to her work - no one is imitating anyone, no one is "trying to be commercial", and yet they've each succeeded in selling millions of recordings. Like Hootie and the Blowfish, they are careful to craft their songs well - these are not accidents of notes and syllables falling from the sky. They say what they mean in a way that's never been said before, that couldn't be said by anyone else. Like all great artists, these performers continually push the envelope in terms of new ways to express themselves. Anyone wanting to be successful could use them as role models in terms of honesty, integrity and originality to create something new within the strict "form" of contemporary song structure.