witw in the newz

it’s worth me parachuting into my own blog to mention two important news items (not necessarily in order of importance):

1. The online journal Sociological Science is up-and-running with four very excellent pieces of research.

2. News of the journal’s debut has hit the Stanford Graduate School of Business site, and this blog gets its first “news” mention in the article. I *am* a popular social science blog, trust me.

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this pug



This pug dressed as a wrecking ball (carrying this Barbie dressed as Miley Cyrus) has been nominated the spirit animal for the 2014 Grammy Awards. And with that, let Grammynation bind itself together, in front of the almighty screen.

Those of you joining us from the Red Carpet pre-show might reasonably ask, ‘What are you wearing?’ Thank you for asking. The gown is entirely from Old Navy (2011 and 2012 collections), and the jewels are from Claires. Tell me, what should the Signature Drink be?

20 performances. 12 collaborations. PLUS, a “celebration 50 years in the making” and all the nominations for album of the year perform.

“Someone who grew up on the Grammy’s:” Beyonce, threatening to Flashdance because she’s “Drunk in Love.” This song is her Rhianna moment for me: warbly notes, crazy giggle interjections, bleeped out words. Plus, she’s grinding around on a chair, as if dancing would make her fall. HOVA on the stage in his <rap tux.> (Note: just a tux.)


The whole performance gets a solid 3.5 visual, 4.5 sound. (pirate bay rules)

L.L. Cool J is the host, and still has his purple velour tux (rap tux) and Kangol hat. Also: jaunty pin.

Full helmet Daft Punk.

First award: Best New Artist. Pharrell’s hat will be a meme in 3, 2, 1….

1009smokey1Am I rite?

Best new artist is…Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. (Our voters are 1-1) “We made this record without a label” (CUE EXIT MUSIC)

Lorde, performing “Royals,” easily the thing I’m most interested to see. She’s playing on a raised circular stage with a drummer and a synth set, and she’s got screen images of those angels from Dr. Who. (Not really. Just regular sculptures.) I love the “I’ve just voted in the middle east” nail treatment she chose to go with the “extra in a john hughes movie” outfit.

For threading the line between faithfulness to the record and refreshing it, I’d give her an 8.3. For energy, a 3.2. Is it only me, or is the show on benzodiazepines?

Commercial break #1, and I’m confused.

LL Cool J wants all you kids to listen to all the words of this Hunter Hays song because you should “dare to be different.” In case that’s not enough soothing, there are Steve Jobs and John Lennon quotes up on the screen to reassure you. I remember being a teenager, and I know it’s tough, but I’m getting really wary of all these folks engaging in relentless pandering to teen angst in order to make a buck.

“Pop duo/group performance:” “Get Lucky,” Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams and (the here credited) Nile Rodgers. Daft Punk won’t talk, which is great. “On behalf of the robots…” says Pharrell.

Steve Coogan is going the next award, and how much I wish he was still in his crazy, wild days. Introducing Juicy Jay and Katy Perry, with a nice joke about how it may be “hard out here for a pimp” but it “isn’t that easy for the prostitutes, either.”

I took my eyes away from the TV for a second, and there’s Katy Perry singing some insipid song dressed as a Traveler Witch. (We don’t say “gypsy” anymore, please.) “She’ll eat your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer” is a line any self-respecting rapper in 2013 should GIVE TO HIS KID FOR THE 4TH GRADE RAPPING COMPETITION.

Commercial break. Increasingly convinced it’s 2001.

(I guess people were really disturbed by that Lorde performance. Talk of drugs and seizures. Can’t figure out why.)

Chicago and Robin Thicke: a perfect whitey white white white white. Chicago’s horn section is pretty fun, tho. Resolved: I’m singing Chicago at the next karaoke night. Am I being really crass to suggest this is a calculated attempt by Thicke to distance himself from the Miley teddy bear/spirit finger performance? Oh, it’s not crass. Now he’s singing “Blurred Lines,” with Robert Palmer style back up singers, with the Chicago guys, full tux, performing with him. Not a teddy bear in sight.

Keith Urban is performing and he’s got his black t-shirt unbuttoned (when did we, as a society, allow t-shirts to have buttons?) just far enough for me to see he’s got some kind of dragon/starburst tattoo over his heart. And Gary whosit (Clark, Junior) has shopped at the same store as Pharrell, junior edition.

SB201The Grammy’s innovation is year is a “Twitter Mirror” which is seven kinds of odd, in part because they put it in the basement/garage.

John Legend pretty much always dresses like an angel, right? I’m not joking, that’s a straight lullaby that he just sang. THIS YEAR’S GRAMMY’S, SPONSORED BY CODEINE.

Best rock song, aka the category in which every single person is 10,000 years old and one group’s (Muse) video features the lead singer dressed for a 2001 SFO rave: Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney and etc. for “[I blacked out the name…SNOOZE].” If more than five people reading this have heard that song before tonight, I’ll buy drinks for the whole bar.

Taylor Swift is now performing on a piano seat that has a gauze train. I assume it’s going to marry another piano seat later, when Macklemore plays. In the middle bridge, she chose to manically flip her hair back and forth, thereby producing the first necessary GIF of the night.

Snoozy snooze snooze.

Location of this year's Grammy's

Location of this year’s Grammy’s

“Superbowl halftime performer Bruno Mars” introducing Pink, doing an aerialist routine while she sings. It’s pretty cool that she appears to have no security wires, and allowed the audience members to spin her around. It looks genuinely fun. Especially the part where an oiled up dancer catches her. He might be Jax from the Real Housewives show, FWIW. And from her breathing, I take it she might actually be singing. En seriouso: every time I hear her sing, I’m so impressed by her voice and showmanship. She’s pretty underappreciated, given her talent.

Best pop solo performance: Lorde, “Royals.” (YAY!) Great short thanks focused on her co-nominees, and then she walks right down the stairs LIKE A BOSS. Love that gal.

This is going to happen sometime soon.

This is going to happen sometime soon.

Oh LOOK! Twitter informs me that I correctly predicted the meme (YAY ME!)


I’m not going to comment on this Ringo Starr performance because I’m sick of telling you people not to hand him the mike.

Best Rap Collaboration: “Holy Grail,” Jay Z feat. Justin Timberlake. “Daddy got a gold sippy cup for you, Blue.” Real talk. Justin Timberlake wasn’t at the show; reporting in from a Target in Orange County. Very funny; Blue only drinks from platinum sippy cups, daddy.

Kanye and Rihanna are Def Jam artists? “Rap is always rock” L.L.? Whatsit?

Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons perform. First FIRST performance with any energy. I’m loving watching Taylor Swift dance in the front row. Imagine Dragons best taiko group, 2013.

Poor Casey Musgraves now needs to follow that up with her Eletrik Cowgal nonsense. I assume this ballad to ambivalence is kitch-that-forgot-we-can’t-decipher-southern-kitch. (It looks the same as sincerity, IMHO.)

Please god, no more Beatles. I’m refusing to comment on this one, too.

Here we go, do this instead:

TAYLOR-SWIFT-DANCINGI think there’s another hour and a half of this, but I’m inclined just to take this to twitter. Folks over there are talking to me. @WITWhat. Find me.




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voting opens late

what the hell…let’s vote for winners.



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vodka & crystal light

That was our pre-game cocktail the last time I had a group of friends who pre-gamed.

Now I’ve got better friends, and they pre-game with wicked little videos, like these ones here.

There’s predictions, and then there’s predictions. Grantland is ready to come out and call the winner for “Song of the Year:” Macklemore’s “Same Love.” What’s important about that?

Never in the history of the Grammys has a hip-hop track won for Song or Record of the Year. This is important because it’s extremely weird. It’s also important because awarding rap’s first-ever Song of the Year Grammy to Macklemore seems weirdly (some would say absurdly) plausible.

Just think about that for a minute. Never. Never, never. There’s a reasonable debate about this number, but hip-hop is at least 30 years old. And has never won the award that celebrates (a) chart success, (b) (the appearance of) progressive politics on the part of the Grammy’s org, (c) songwriting. Hip-hop isn’t doing spectacularly well in other categories, but it hasn’t been a total shut out. Macklemore’s song is only the fourth hip-hopper to be up for the award: Eminem’s been up twice, Kanye twice, and Estelle once.

Does this have consequences? Hyden gives a qualified no, particularly since some past song of the year winners are essentially one-hit-wonders (in the Grammy sense), or merely forgettable, or are surpassed in our collective resonance-meter by non-winners:

Jay Z has as many Song of the Year nominations as Hoobastank,10 and yet Jay Z could pay to have the members of Hoobastank dropped into a South American rain forest and hunted like wild game by billionaires. This is as it should be. Awards never stick around as long as truly great music does.

On the other hand…

And the kicker, of course, is that Macklemore stands a chance of achieving what a black artist arguably could not, thereby sharpening the band-as-racial-interlopers critique.

In the end, it’s going to be hard for me to decide if I should root for Macklemore on principle, or for Lorde on achievement.

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gram me

i am getting old, but I think I still have a live-blog left in me. so…i think i’m in for Sunday night.

i plan to read this piece on “inexplicable wins” to prep, and have a good anticipatory cry.


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classical music is dead?

In Slate Magazine, argues that classical music is dying (or dead). Sales are small and shrinking, few radio stations exist, audiences are aging and shrinking, and while instrument sales are stable, there’s little remaining art programming in our public schools. Moreover, classical music is seen as an effete, elitist past time, as you’ll know if you watch Modern Family.

I think a few things get elided in the article: the importance of preserving classical music as heritage culture; the importance of art education in school; and, the fact that a listenership exists and is small–so we might well expect a contraction of the organizational field. That last thing is a fact: the sector is bigger than it needs to be to serve its public. It’s propped up by private and public donors, and that’s sort of a shame for others who might benefit from that money (assuming the donors would re-direct those dollars elsewhere, and not stuff them in a mattress).

We can think more carefully about the first (preserving heritage), and what organizations might play that role, how they should be funded, etc. As a matter of principle and practice, we should be doing the same thing with the (privately owned) popular media of the past. Bill Ivey’s book “Arts, Inc.” is a compelling argument for why the citizens of the world should be concerned that so much of our heritage culture is privately owned.

The final piece is the educational one, and there’s no doubt in my mind that we need a more expansive program of public arts education, and that classical music has a role to play in that.

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trial and error

A friend asked me to respond to this comment in the Times on the use of rap lyrics in criminal trials. This is what I said:

My mind turns (having recently read a transcription of Langston Hughes’s testimony) to the many instances in which authors and artists were brought in front of McCarthy era tribunals to address the claims that their artworks contained information about their political allegiances. I think more modern minds find it preposterous that the actions or thoughts of one’s fictional characters are any kind of reliable indicators of the author’s actions or thoughts. They’re art, or fantasy, or imagination, and while all of these things are filtered through the experience and mind of the creator (or, constrained by them, if you like), they’re not the sort of thing that we’d take as evidence of a crime (setting aside for the moment the inanity of viewing Communist party membership as any kind of a crime, under any circumstances).

Yet we see that’s exactly what’s happening in this case.

Why the double-standard? Well, people do sometimes follow the advice: “write what you know.” And much–arguably, a majority–of violent rap music is written by people who have experienced violence. In fact, many of these people live in places absolutely steeped in violence. Suffused with it. A giant vat of sad.

Some of those people have participated in it, no doubt. But what we’re seeing, in the mass policing of black men more generally, and black gangsta rap artists more specifically, is this assumption that because black men are more often seen as criminals (thanks, nightly news!), and gangsta rappers often develop a character that is a criminal, we assume they’re all criminals. And once we’ve made that assumption, we assemble evidence to convince ourselves that our assumption (and our faulty transitive logic) is, in fact, true.

But a protagonist is not the same person as the author. One is fictional, the other not.

What to do, then, when the author performs as the protagonist? I can think of lots of performance artists who “remain in character” even when the cameras are off, and for a variety of good (or, at least, defensible) reasons. Just watch an episode of The Actor’s Studio where someone who is committed to The (Stanislavski) Method talks about how they remain in character in order to be effective in their craft. Pushing further, I can think of many performance actors who perform “in the street”–whose purpose is to trouble our notions of where art should happen. My favorite example, by far, is comedian Andy Kaufman, who often refused to break character because the performance was always happening. [Oh, those wrestling matches with Jerry Lawler still get me.]

Some rappers do this too. They’re “in character” even when they’re not on stage or in the studio. The crass interpretation of this is that they’re trying to sell albums by promoting themselves as a thug. The idea being that thug music made by real thugs is “better” (for some audiences) than thug music made by a nice, sweet boy who loves his mama. I think this makes sense, and I think that’s what the Johnny Cash reference is supposed to illuminate.

I’m certain that a small minority of thug rappers who are not breaking character commit violence. What percentage? I have no idea. But the key question is this: if some of them do it, does a moral society punish all of them?

For me, the answer is obviously not. Some women murder their children, but we don’t arrest every woman that threatens to kill her kid.

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