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How The Pandemic And Political Turmoil Inspired 2022 GRAMMY Nominees: Alicia Keys & Brandi Carlile, Foo Fighters & More
The past two years have been some of the most trying times in recent memory, shrouded in uncertainty and a need for change. Eight of this year’s GRAMMY nominees used their art to cope, restore hope and create beautiful moments even in the darkest times.
Among the many nominees at the 64th GRAMMY Awards, several albums, songs and releases could've only come out of our world as it is now. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the global racial reckonings and protests, that defined 2020 and 2021 also galvanized some of the best music and comedy.
This soul-searching work wasn't limited to any one genre or release format, presenting a spectrum of emotions from hopeful optimism, to despair, to ultimate catharsis. From rock titans Foo Fighters to comedy veteran Dave Chappelle, those who took on the tumult of the present did so from their own unique perspective.
For many, art is a refuge in a dark time, and these 2022 GRAMMY nominees rose to the moment. The eight nominated works below reflect the pandemic and fight for social justice in all its exhausting and uncertain — yet inspiring — contradictions.
Alicia Keys & Brandi Carlile — "A Beautiful Noise" (Song of the Year)
Released in October of 2020, right at the peak of United States’ presidential election jitters, two dynamic singer/songwriters came together for a rousing call to action. "A Beautiful Noise" is both an appeal for voter turnout and a showcase for the potent talents of Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile.
The "A Beautiful Noise" music video features the two stars on duelling grand pianos in a warmly-lit room, and that's about it — but that’s all it needs. All the fireworks are contained in the two vocal performances and the subtle-yet-meaningful looks exchanged between Keys and Carlile.
In a statement accompanying the release, Carlile said she's "forever inspired" by Keys and jumped at the opportunity to "deliver this beautiful message through song" at a time when voting felt more urgent than ever.
H.E.R. — "Fight For You" (Song of the Year)
When R&B/soul sensation Gabriella Wilson — better known as H.E.R. — was approached to write a song for the film Judas and the Black Messiah, she drew an immediate parallel with the Black Lives Matter movement of present day.
Directed by Shaka King and released in February 2021, Judas and the Black Messiah dramatizes the complex relationship between Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and FBI informant William O'Neill (LaKeith Stanfield) in late-1960s Cleveland. "They called me and said they need a song to bring the movie home," H.E.R. told Variety in a video interview.
Working alongside songwriter Tiara Thomas and producer D'Mile, H.E.R. created a protest song that deftly links past and present, drawing on the classic soul records that soundtracked her youth. "I really wanted the song to bring the two generations together," H.E.R. added. "I wanted to create a universal message that represented that fight that is still happening today."
Caribou — "You Can Do It" (Best Dance/Electronic Recording)
When the COVID-19 pandemic put Caribou's 2020 tour on hold, band leader Dan Snaith found himself with a lot of free time. Taking shelter with his family at home in London, the producer saw the first glimmer of good news in March 2021 as the vaccination rollout ramped up. To reflect his hope for the future, Snaith sat down at his home set-up and made 'You Can Do It,' a bright and infectious (in a good way) ode to optimism.
Snaith knew the single had to come out right then, before the world changed again. "People have had so much fear, anxiety and negativity in the last 18 months; the thought of being able to put something out into the world that was just positive, that just allowed people to feel happy and joyous again, was something that felt so right," he told Billboard last year. Its music video — featuring an array of cute dogs bouncing gleefully through open fields — only amplified the song’s joyful mood.
Foo Fighters — "Waiting On A War" (Best Rock Song)
Growing up outside Washington, DC, in the 1970s and 1980s, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl lived in fear of nuclear war. His anxiety about a nuclear attack, fueled in equal parts by the real-life Cold War and the 1983 made-for-TV movie The Day After, invaded his dreams and became a defining childhood memory. Four decades later, on a school run, Grohl's 11-year-old daughter casually asked if a war was coming. That weekend he wrote "Waiting On A War" to make sense of a fear that now crosses generations.
"This song was written for my daughter, Harper, who deserves a future, just as every child does," Grohl wrote in a statement to introduce the single, which appears on the band's tenth studio album, Medicine at Midnight. Beginning with the frontman's gravelly vocals over strummed guitar, "Waiting On A War" builds to an all-out anthem in the classic Foo Fighters mold.
Despite its heavy themes, Grohl revealed in a track-by-track album breakdown that he imagined "Waiting On A War" as "a song that we play every night for the rest of our lives, that everybody will sing along to."
Brandi Carlile — "Right On Time" (Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best Pop Solo Performance)
Six-time GRAMMY winner Brandi Carlile spent the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic consumed by the same uncertainty as the rest of us, weathering the storm on her "compound" in Washington State with her wife, Catherine, and two young daughters. Out of that strange, fretful time came Carlile's seventh studio album, In These Silent Days. "Right on Time," the album's opening track and lead single, reflected all those stirred-up feelings as only Carlile can.
"In these silent days and this time that's been imposed on us spiritually as a global community, really significant things have happened," Carlile told Entertainment Weekly of "Right On Time." "Babies were born, divorces were had, people died, and there's something really human about the obstacles that we've put in front of ourselves, and then deciding to just somehow explode through it and say, maybe I didn't come out of this right, maybe I didn't handle this the right way, maybe it wasn't right, but something had to happen — so it was right on time."
Carlile stars in the video for "Right On Time" (artfully directed by Carlile's friend Courtney Cox), conveying the full sweep of emotions that she examines in the song's three and a half minutes.
Dave Chappelle — 8:46 (Best Spoken Word Album)
In June 2020, with the pandemic raging, comedy vet Dave Chappelle pulled together a socially distanced outdoor show in Ohio, billed as "A Talk with Punchlines." It was a forum for Chappelle to grapple with his anger and sadness about police brutality against Black Americans, with a particular focus on the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. On this night, jokes were a secondary concern.
Later that month, Netflix uploaded the 30-minute set to its YouTube channel as 8:46, with the title referencing the length of time Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck. Directed by documentary filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, 8:46 is raw and unpolished by design — and every bit as sobering as Chappelle intended.
Editor's Note: In October 2021, another Chappelle Netflix special, The Closer, was widely criticized for the comedian's comments about transgender people; it sparked a walkout in protest from hundreds of Netflix employees.
Maren Morris — "Better Than We Found It" (Best Country Song)
In October 2020, in advance of the U.S. presidential election, Texas-born country sensation Maren Morris released "Better Than We Found It," which she described as "a protest song" in the tradition of Bob Dylan and Nina Simone. Morris also committed a portion of proceeds from the single to the Black Women's Health Imperative.
"I still have hope for this country and for the future of it," Morris said in a statement at the time of the release, "and as a new mother I wanted to promise my son that I'm going to do everything in my power to leave this world better than the one I came into and the one I see right now."
The powerful music video is intercut with real-stories from people in Morris's Nashville community, including young activists for racial justice, teenagers facing fears of deportation and the family of Daniel Hambrick, a Black man killed by a Nashville police officer in 2018.
Bo Burnham — Inside / 'All Eyes On Me' (Best Music Film / Best Song Written For Visual Media)
In May 2021, Netflix uploaded Inside to its platform with a deceptively simple description: "A musical comedy special shot and performed by Bo Burnham, alone, over the course of a very unusual year." Within weeks, Inside had become one of the defining documents of our pandemic age.
Burnham masterfully flips quarantine-induced narratives — FaceTiming Mom, internet deep-dives — into catchy tunes, creating a commentary as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. The 90-minute special crescendos with Burnham's achingly intimate performance of "All Eyes On Me," which sees the comedian riff on the dark period that followed his decision to quit stand-up.
At once a razor-sharp pop music parody and a deep dive into its creator's psyche, "All Eyes On Me" is Burnham at his most unforgiving. Burnham has avoided interviews following the release of Inside, preferring to let the art speak for itself.
Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images
Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series
The artist will take her upcoming 'More Myself: A Journey' biography on a four-city book tour
After performing her powerhouse piano medley at the 62nd Annual GRAMMYs, R&B superstar, GRAMMY-winning artist and former GRAMMY’s host Alicia Keys has revealed that she will set out on a four-stop book tour next month. The storytelling tour will support her forthcoming book More Myself: A Journey, which is slated for a March 31 release via Flatiron Books and is reported to feature stories and music from the book, told and performed by Alicia and her piano, according to a statement.
Part autobiography, part narrative documentary, Keys' title is dubbed in its description as an "intimate, revealing look at one artist’s journey from self-censorship to full expression." You can pre-order the title here.
The book tour will kick off with a March 31 Brooklyn stop at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From there, Keys will visit Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on April 5 and Chicago’s Thalia Hall with Chicago Ideas the following day, April 6. The short-run will culminate on April 7 in Los Angeles at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.
Pre-sales for the tour are underway and public on-sale will begin on Friday, March 6 at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. Tickets for the intimate dates and full release dates and times are available here.
Keys won her first five career awards at the 44th Annual GRAMMYs in 2002. On the night, she received awards in the Best New Artists, Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance categories respectively. She has received a total of 29 nominations and 15 GRAMMYs in her career.
This year, Keys will also embark on a world tour in support of Alicia, the artist’s upcoming seventh studio album and the follow up of 2016’s Here, due out March 20 via RCA Records.
A Tribute In Black To Johnny Cash
A star-studded roster of GRAMMY-winning talent celebrates the music and 80th birthday of Johnny Cash in Austin, Texas
Though Johnny Cash passed away in 2003, he's having a very good year in 2012. The latest in a series of events honoring the man in black — an 80th-birthday tribute titled We Walk The Line: A Celebration Of The Music Of Johnny Cash — drew a slew of GRAMMY-winning performers to Austin, Texas, for a lively Friday-night show on April 20 at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater.
Top billing went to Cash's surviving Highwaymen brethren, GRAMMY winners Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, who teamed with Shooter Jennings (son of late GRAMMY-winning Highwayman Waylon Jennings) and Jamey Johnson in a reunion of sorts on the song "Highwayman." Under a large banner bearing an image of Cash strumming a guitar, flanked by two silhouettes, Nelson also teamed with GRAMMY winner Sheryl Crow on "If I Were A Carpenter."
Crow sounded almost as if she were addressing Cash when she joked to Nelson, "I would definitely have your baby — if I could. If I didn't have two others of my own. And if you weren't married. And if I wasn't friends with your wife."
Audience members cheered lustily in approval, as they did throughout most of the show, a taped-for-DVD benefit for the childhood muscular dystrophy foundation Charley's Fund. Just hours earlier, many of them had watched as Nelson helped unveil his new statue in front of the theater, which sits on a street also named after him.
The event was produced by Keith Wortman with GRAMMY-winning producer Don Was serving as musical director. Was recruited Buddy Miller, Greg Leisz, Kenny Aronoff, and new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ian McLagan of the Faces as the house band. The handpicked all-star roster of performers ranged from Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, Brandi Carlile, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Andy Grammer, Amy Lee of Evanescence, and Pat Monahan of Train to Ronnie Dunn, Shelby Lynne, Old 97's lead singer Rhett Miller, Lucinda Williams, and even Austin-based actor Matthew McConaughey, who, in addition to emceeing, sang "The Man Comes Around."
"We wanted a real broad, diverse group of artists," Wortman said backstage. "With Cash, you're as likely to find his music in a punk rock music fan, a heavy metal fan and a Nashville music fan, so he's not just a country music guy."
GRAMMY winner Monahan, who sang Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night," commented before the show, "I think of Johnny Cash as a style, as you would think of clothing, or music or whatever. He was his own thing. No can can really describe Johnny Cash entirely.
"And no one could deliver a song quite like him," continued Monahan. "He sang hundreds of other songwriters' songs and he made those songwriters important because of the way he delivered what they were saying. There's not much that I don't respect about him, and I told his son [John Carter Cash] earlier that I'm almost more inspired by the love for his family than his music."
Lynne, who won the Best New Artist GRAMMY in 2000, sang "Why Me Lord," another song penned by Kristofferson, and delivered a spirited duet with Monahan on "It Ain't Me Babe," said Cash has influenced "all of us."
"We appreciate the majestic rebellion that Johnny gave us all in the music business. And he's also one of the great American icons of all time," she added.
Among the acts who earned the loudest applause in a night full of high-volume appreciation was the GRAMMY-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, the bluegrass quartet re-exposing the genre's African-American roots. Their rendition of "Jackson" was among many highlights. Earlier, co-founder Dom Flemons revealed the personal inspiration of Cash's catalog.
"Johnny Cash's music has had an impact on me as a rock and roll singer, a country singer, as a folk music performer and great interpreter of song. I just love everything that he's done," said Flemons.
Bandmate Hubby Jenkins added, "Johnny Cash was really great about putting emotional investment into every song that he sang."
Co-founder Rhiannon Giddens said Cash’s core was his voice and his subject matter, and no matter how much production was added, it never diluted his message.
Miller, who named his band after "Wreck Of The Old '97," a song popularized by Cash, said their intent was to sound like "Johnny Cash meets the Clash." He also recalled always picking "Ring Of Fire," a classic inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999, on the tabletop jukebox during childhood visits to a Dallas diner.
"I didn't know what it was about, but I knew that the guy who was singing it was singing it with everything he had," said Miller, dressed in black in homage to "one of my all-time heroes." "And there was so much heart behind it, and so much conviction. And nobody could sell a song like Johnny Cash. He meant every word he said, and if he didn't mean it, he made it sound like he meant it."
(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis currently contributes to American Songwriter, NPR's Song of the Day and newspapers nationwide, as well as several regional magazines and NPR-affiliate KUT-FM's "Texas Music Matters." A contributing editor to The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen from A To E To Z, she has also previously written for Rollingstone.com and Paste magazine.)
Photo: Ron Howard/Redferns
John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018
With hits from Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Nina Simone, and more, find the motivation for a brand-new you this New Year
Each New Year offers the opportunity for a fresh new start, whether you're looking to wash away the sins of the previous year or reinvent a better future that follows your ultimate dreams. Starting over isn't an easy task, but we have one recommendation that will help motivate you: music.
Don't be a fuddy duddy. Kick-start 2018 with this playlist of seven songs all about starting over, including hits from John Lennon, the Byrds, Sting, and Alicia Keys, among others.
1. The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
Starting with its lyrics, "To everything (turn, turn, turn)/There is a season," this GRAMMY Hall Of Fame classic is a great reminder that everything is always changing anyway, so now is as good a time as any to give something new a chance. The composition was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, but the lyrics come almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The song didn't hit it big until the Byrds got their turn at it in 1965. Reportedly, it took Roger McGuinn & Co. 78 takes to perfect their folk-rock arrangement.
2. Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"
GRAMMY winner Leonard Cohen had a knack for poetry powerful enough to move mountains, and his "Anthem" is one such gem. This 1992 tune about embracing imperfection and marching forward in the face of adversity contains one of Cohen's most-quoted lines: "Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." And we'll leave you with one final line from the master that encapsulates starting over: "The birds they sing, at the break of day/Start again, I heard them say/Don't dwell on what has passed away/Or what is yet to be."
3. Gil Scott-Heron, "I'm New Here"
Taken from his 2010 album of the same name, "I'm New Here" came near the end of Gil Scott-Heron's storied life. The album saw Scott-Heron, according to Drowned In Sound's Robert Ferguson, "pick over the bones of his life, acknowledging the hard times and his own mistakes, but standing proud of all they have led him to become." Embodying this sentiment accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Scott-Heron's bluesy, semi-spoken "I'm New Here" brings out the poignancy of change. Its key lyric, "No matter how far wrong you've gone/You can always turn around," is something to keep in mind year-round, let alone January.
4. Alicia Keys, "Brand New Me"
Alicia Keys went full bore on the empowering messages of her 2012 album, Girl On Fire — the Best R&B Album winner at the 56th GRAMMY Awards — including the track, "Brand New Me." Co-written with singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé, the soft pop/R&B ballad describes growing as a person and becoming a brand-new version of yourself. "Brand new me is about the journey it takes to get to a place where you are proud to be a new you," Keys wrote on her website at the time of the song's release.
5. John Lennon, "(Just Like) Starting Over"
A quintessential start-anew song, former Beatle John Lennon included "(Just Like) Starting Over" on his GRAMMY-winning 1980 album, Double Fantasy. "(Just Like) Starting Over" was the album's first single because Lennon felt it best represented his return following a five-year hiatus from music. It's also a love song, but the theme of starting over has a universal resonance "It's time to spread our wings and fly/Don't let another day go by my love/It'll be just like starting over." It became Lennon's second chart-topping single in the U.S., reaching No. 1 after his death on Dec. 8, 1980.
6. Nina Simone, "Feeling Good"
"It's a new dawn/It's a new day/It's a new life for me/I'm feelin' good." Could you ask for better lyrics for embarking on a new journey? Nina Simone recorded her version of "Feeling Good," which was originally written for the musical "The Roar Of The Greasepaint — The Smell Of The Crowd," on her 1965 album I Put A Spell On You. While artists such as Michael Bublé, John Coltrane, George Michael, and Muse subsequently covered it, no alternative is quite as powerful — or soulful — as Simone's.
7. Sting, "Brand New Day"
Sting's "Brand New Day" has a lesson for inspiring motivation to start the New Year with fresh eyes: "Turn the clock to zero, buddy/Don't wanna be no fuddy-duddy/We started up a brand new day." The bright, catchy pop tune and its namesake 1999 album resonated with fans, landing it at No. 9 on the Billboard 200. The track (and album) earned Sting GRAMMYs — Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Album — at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards.
(L-R) Jim Gaffigan, Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman, Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart
2018 GRAMMY Nominations: Best Comedy Album Roundup
Each a raucously funny serving of stand-up from comedians with decades of stage experience, these are the 60th GRAMMY nominees for Best Comedy Album
The right joke can examine an uncomfortable truth in a palatable way, unpack difficult personal memories bringing the audience to a moment of shared catharsis, or sometimes just shake out a shock laugh with a surprisingly well-phrased observation on bodily functions.
The five Best Comedy Album nominees for the 60th GRAMMY Awards are based on standup specials from comics with decades of experience in making audiences laugh. Each is a masterclass in timing, delivery and comedic observation from artists at the top of their craft.
Take a closer listen at the brand of laughs offered by this year's nominees.
The Age Of Spin & Deep In The Heart Of Texas
A double-album comprising the legendary comedian, writer, and actor's first full-length comedy specials released in over 12 years, Dave Chappelle's The Age Of Spin & Deep In The Heart Of Texas, respectively, document the performer's views on "Making A Murder," a potential script idea for a Texan superhero, and the four times he met O.J. Simpson. In the month following the specials' dual release, Netflix revealed they were already the most-viewed standup performances ever hosted by the streaming video network. Chappelle's nod for The Age Of Spin & Deep In The Heart Of Texas represents his first GRAMMY nomination.
The fifth hour-long televised comedy special of Jim Gaffigan's career sees the inimitable funnyman tackle the anxieties of diving into binge-watching a brand-new TV show, alternative New Year's resolutions (pasta every day) and the occasionally superfluous nature of leather belts. There are also bits on mullets, why men don't change their clothes and the exhausting job of being a parent. Previously nominated for his stand-up specials Mr. Universe and Obsessed, Gaffigan is hoping his nomination for Cinco will be the proverbial third time's charm.
Jerry Before Seinfeld
Returning to New York's The Comic Strip — the nightclub where it all started for the stand-up and titular character of the Larry David co-created hit TV show "Seinfeld" — Jerry Before Seinfeld sees comedian Jerry Seinfeld regale an intimate club audience with tales of his comedy career's early days and the formative experiences that defined his unique outlook on life. Comprising everything from the performer's thoughts on raising children in the 1960s to his "one joke that worked," Jerry Before Seinfeld marks his third GRAMMY nomination.
A Speck Of Dust
Always one to find the quiet moments of existential crisis amid jokes built on shocking and sometimes gross "did she really say that?" moments, comedienne Sarah Silverman returns with her first comedy special following a serious health scare in 2016. She tackles subjects ranging from fun facts about squirrels, to people who talk to themselves while pretending they're talking to their pets, and whether or not laser hair removal is really important when we're all really just specks of dust on a rock floating in space. A Speck Of Dust is Silverman's third GRAMMY nomination.
Philadelphia-based comedian and movie star Kevin Hart documented what was possibly the largest comedy tour ever for his third theatrically released standup special What Now? — leading to the first GRAMMY nomination of his career. Wrapped around a short James Bond-themed mini-movie starring Hart and actress Halle Berry, the live performance segments showcase Hart's sold-out performance at his home town's Lincoln Financial Field, before a capacity crowd of nearly 70,000.
The 60th GRAMMY Awards will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York on Jan. 28, 2018, airing live on CBS from 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT.