I really love this New York Times Magazine infographic on how to accomplish the rather difficult task of DJing a political campaign event without offending the candidate, the audience, or running afoul of cranky artists. Attention to lyrics are at the top of the list:
There are obvious songs to stay away from — Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘‘Fortunate Son’’ for Romney, Public Enemy’s ‘‘Fear of a Black Planet’’ for Obama, Tom Jones’s ‘‘Sex Bomb’’ for Gingrich — but seemingly innocuous tracks also have to be vetted for double meaning. (Campaigns sometimes give D.J.’s specific playlists to avoid trouble.) ‘‘For Herman Cain, especially, I didn’t use anything with sexual overtones,’’ says John Donahue, who has also spun for Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman. ‘‘A couple of songs on my list at his last rally were great, like this one upbeat Christina Aguilera song with the chorus ‘Ain’t no other man can stand up next to you.’ But the lyrics talk about calling your lover, so I didn’t play it.’’
I also think it’s telling what the Donahue suggest if the factors are just too complicated to get creative: ‘‘Play upbeat country. It’s usually got patriotic overtones. If ‘America’ is in the title, even better.’’ I saw a lot of complaints during the Grammys about how much country music was included in the ceremony given that it’s a genre with its own powerful infrastructure and awards shows. But increasingly, I think hip-hop and country are more the dominant consensus genres in this country, given both their free-standing success and their infiltration of pop and rock. I’m curious if Donahue, who DJs for conservative candidates, would give the same advice for Democratic rallies, or if he thinks country is solidly red and other genres are solidly blue.
When the Grammys invited Chris Brown to perform not once but twice during Sunday’s awards show, three years after he plead guilty to assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna, the decision sparked outrage—and some good questions. At Ebony, Zerlina Maxwell wants to know if the Grammys think they’re sending a message other than that domestic abuse is no big deal. And the New Yorker’s rock critic, Sasha Frere-Jones, asked “Why forgive Chris Brown so quickly and hang Ike Turner out to dry for so long?” The answer isn’t that the Grammys, or any other institution in Hollywood, have arcane or difficult-to-discern rules about when domestic abusers should be welcomed back and given the platforms they need to make enormous amounts of money. It’s that they don’t have established standards at all, leaving them to handle things on a case-by-case basis that often seems incoherent.
In January, I asked FX President John Landgraf, who is working with Charlie Sheen on a new show called Anger Management, if he thought there was a clear standard for something an actor could do that would make them, in Landgraf’s eyes, unemployable. He told me:
I can’t tell you what that is. But the answer’s clearly yes. You can certainly imagine a performer doing something that renders them unemployable. Again, what is that? I don’t know. And do I hope that won’t take place and believe that probably won’t take place? Yeah. But anybody could do something that would be grounds for termination of a show. How could I define that line? I’m not a lawyer. How could I have a precise list of things and here’s the line and if you’re on this side of the line you’re fine and you’re on that side of the line, you’re not fine? I don’t think that’s theoretically possible.
When it comes to why Landgraf trusts Sheen in particular to star in Anger Management, in which Sheen plays a former baseball player with anger issues whose best friend is a woman, who has a female therapist, and who is raising a daughter as a single father, he said:
Part of what the show is about, frankly, is a kind of comeuppance. For example, he has a teenaged daughter, he has an ex-wife, his ex-wife has questionable tastes in men, and he was the first of her questionable tastes in men. But now, as a co-parent, he has to deal with a series of men in his 13-year-old daughter’s life, and that’s a kind of comeuppance for him. I can’t know what’s in Charlie Sheen’s heart. I can only tell you that as an artist and as a performer, he made a choice in terms of what he chose to do next that to me is indicative of somebody who wants to grow, and he wants to play a more self-aware, more dimensional character, and he wants to make a more complicated, more nuanced show.
I think you and Mo [Ryan, the television critic at Huffington Post] imagine that some of the same things that happened in the past will probably happen in the future, and therefore in your estimation, I’ve stepped into the role of an enabler that was exited by others like Warner Brothers and CBS. And in my estimation, we make a really good show and Charlie grows as a human being, and we don’t know.
I’d argue that the evidence is fairly clear that Charlie Sheen has a pattern of repeated violence against women who are his intimate partners, and of relapses in his program of recovery, and that perhaps my and Mo’s bet is better than Landgraf’s. But making bets about the future isn’t really the point here. It’s how Hollywood treats past behavior and sends messages about which sins matter, and how much, and which don’t. Read more
Minaj’s performance began on stage with a mock confessional skit. This was followed by a taped video depicting a mock exorcism. With stained glass in the background, she appeared on stage again with choir boys and monks dancing.
Perhaps the most vulgar part was the sexual statement that showed a scantily clad female dancer stretching backwards while an altar boy knelt between her legs in prayer. Finally, “Come All Ye Faithful” was sung while a man posing as a bishop walked on stage; Minaj was shown levitating.
None of this was by accident, and all of it was approved by The Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammys. Whether Minaj is possessed is surely an open question, but what is not in doubt is the irresponsibility of The Recording Academy. Never would they allow an artist to insult Judaism or Islam.
Notably, Donohue has nothing to say about the real travesty of the night, the fact that the Recording Academy invited back Chris Brown, who infamously battered his then-girlfriend, the singer Rihanna, on his way to a Grammys party, to perform not once, but twice at this year’s awards ceremony. At least Donohue’s making it clear that Catholic imagery, not Catholic teaching, is his priority.
When rapper Nicki Minaj took the stage towards the end of last night’s Grammy Awards, she delivered a performance that must have been long in the making. Channeling The Exorcist, flanked by faux-stained glass windows, and accompanied by a troupe of dancers dressed as members of the Catholic clergy, it was far and away the most outrageous spectacle in a night that featured a series of stripped-down performances, particularly in tribute to the late singer Whitney Houston who passed away on Saturday. Watch it:
The routine would have made headlines at any time—Minaj, a talented rapper, might have been dinged in another year for stealing a page from Madonna’s Catholic-tweaking playbook. But Minaj’s performance capped off a week when the Catholic heirarchy was elevated in the media in a way it hasn’t been in years after President Obama announced, and then amended, a rule that would have required religious organizations to offer insurance that covered contraceptives to their employees. And as a result, Minaj is likely to get more than the usual media buzz out of her appearance on the red carpet with a man dressed like the Pope and her turn as a victim of demonic possession, and Catholics have yet another piece of evidence that they’re targets.
But on closer examination, it’s hard to see Minaj’s performance of “Roman Holiday” as particularly sacrilegious—and even harder to see it as a progressive jab at the church. Roman, the alter ego Nicki takes on in a number of her songs, and who she was claiming to exorcise tonight, is supposed to be a gay man. And the performance, which was not exceptionally salacious as these things go, could be interpreted at minimum as suggesting that demonic possession is real, and at most, that gayness is something that can be driven out of a person with the appropriate spiritual intervention (it’s not entirely clear that said intervention worked on the Grammy stage). Minaj occupies an interesting space in hip-hop: she’s appeared on the cover of Out, and been coy about her sexual orientation and deployment of her Roman persona in a way that’s allowed her to build a strong following among LGBT hip-hop fans, who are not exactly rolling in out artists to support. But it says something about the complexities of that position that Minaj may have simultaneously embodied a gay man last night, and suggested that you can pray away the gay.
11:11: This has been an evening with essentially no musical surprises, and an awful lot of staid performance. But I have to say I really appreciate Nicki Minaj doing something utterly bonkers, even if it was sort of a mess. And though it was a) likely an accident, b) following Madonna’s path to stardom, c) possibly auditioning for American Horror Story, Nicki turns out to be on-message given that Catholicism is at the heart of the most heated political debate of the moment.
10:37: The Grammys president is getting his Bruce Springsteen on here with a pitch for music education and MusiCares: “We take care of our musicians in our creative community in their times of crisis.” On the other hand, given the artists with drug problems who died last year, it’s a bit odd to pitch the charity on the grounds that it gets people sober.
10:08: Adele, back from vocal surgery, sounds pretty great. But her performance, especially in comparison to a lot of what we’ve seen on stage tonight, is a reminder of how little authentic vocal performance matters at the Grammys—and in the industry overall—anymore.
9:52: I’m pretty sure Adele took looking-happy-and-grateful lessons from Taylor Swift. That said, she totally deserves this award.
9:22: People who are dismayed by this Beach Boys tribute in general and performance in particular should go buy the Live in London album, which is just divine, and very funny. The band sounds amazing and spends all the breaks making fun of the hysterically excited crowd. Which is not nice. But is very entertaining.
9:14: The Decemberists should win more things. Not least because they are awesomely progressive.
8:48: I like the Foo Fighters, but Dave Grohl will always be a member of Nirvana to me.
8:44: A reminder. Jay Smooth has everything dead to rights about Chris Brown:
8:36: Thank goodness Kanye’s winning SOMETHING tonight, even if it’s for “Otis” and not a track off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And I honestly think Kanye’s totally justified, and perhaps wise, not to be here tonight.
8:30: It’s only one barometer of the health of feminism in this country, but we really need to get to a point where abusers like Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen are unemployable in the entertainment industry until they’ve made meaningful amends to the women they hurt, taken public responsibility for their actions, and done work to help women escape abuse. I hate seeing Brown on the Grammy stage. And I hate that I’m going to see Sheen on FX, which is otherwise my favorite network.
8:24: Alicia Keys snarking about the suspense over Adele’s win for “Someone Like Me” just makes me like her more than I did 60 seconds ago.
8:23: I miss Alicia Keys. Can we have another album from her, too? Also, more stripped-down performances in this telecast that emphasize vocal performance rather than badly-wired theatrics?
8:15: I like Bruno Mars just fine, but there’s something awkward about someone who got off a serious cocaine rap consequence-free talking about remembering Whitney Houston.
8:08: “I Will Always Love You” would have been my choice for Whitney performance, too. But notable that they started it mid-song before the lyrics about leaving someone voluntarily.
8:04: Segging from the state of the American economy to Whitney Houston’s death was always going to be kind of awkward, L.L. Cool J.
8:03: I love “We Take Care of Our Own,” but that was a thinner-sounding performance than I would have liked.
8:02: Bruce Springsteen is probably the only man in America in his sixties who can get late-in-life dual ear piercings and not have it be labeled a midlife crisis.
8:01: The Boss wants to know if America is alive out there. This is probably the wrong live crowd to be asking that, but an interesting question for the country in general!
7:59: I’m hearing Nicki Minaj showed up with the Pope? I’d put money on that being the most interesting spectacle of the night, but I guess we’ll just have to see…