When it comes to the visual-media categories, what’s old is new again
Visual-media categories see a number of high-profile entries this year from the likes of “A Star Is Born” and Childish Gambino.
IN A WAY, THE GRAMMYS’ VISUAL media-related categories are the ones that get us most in touch with the ancestral roots of music. Because before there was digital reproduction or vinyl or even wax cylinders, musical performances were always seen as well as heard. It’s not just the nature of celebrity that makes us want to see our stars in music videos or documentaries; it’s the urge to get back to the campfire, or the saloon, or the opera house, where they were right there to be looked in the eye. The film, TV and Broadway categories don’t necessarily put the performers in front of us, but they showcase how music is the soundtrack of our lives, and are usually tied into a story, whether it’s P.T. Barnum on screen or the true
greatest show — the one that’s going on in our heads as we hum along.
These categories tend to be buried as you scroll through the list of hundreds of Grammy nominations, but they represent some of the key music flashpoints of the past 12 to 15 months. There was probably no musical moment that put more chills down more spines than Keala Settle and a backing ensemble’s performance of “This Is Me” in “The Greatest Showman” or on the film’s soundtrack. Does the single peaking at No. 58 in the U.S. reflect that? Obviously not. (The U.K. charts, where it made it to No. 3, better reflected the tune’s spiritual ubiquity.) The Carters’ “Apeshit” didn’t make the top 10, either, but if there were a scientific chart for memes, it would have been No. 1 with a bullet. If the sight of Jay-z and Beyoncé draping themselves across every nook and cranny of the Louvre didn’t set off a ton of “How did they do that?” talk in your immediate circle, you may be hanging out around the wrong water cooler.
With all that said, can we just echo the immortal words of Agent Dale Cooper at the end of the “Twin Peaks” reboot and ask: “What year is this?” Because the Grammys’ stubborn insistence on their eligibility year stretching from October through September guarantees that their best- of lists will be significantly off from anybody else’s best lists. (Hey, you imagine somebody saying back in the day, if the Jewish New Year can be in early fall, so can ours.)
Film-related Grammy categories tend to lag even more behind the cultural conversation than the others, by virtue of prestige films — and their corresponding soundtracks — tending mostly to come out in the last quarter of a year. And so, yes, in February 2019, the Grammys will be considering the impact of such 2017 favorites as “This Is Me,” Sufjan Stevens’ “Call Me by Your Name” song, and the scores for “The Shape of Water” and, no, not the most recent “Star Wars” movie but the “Star Wars” film-before-last. Haven’t these graduated to becoming part of the lifetime achievement conversation by now?
But if the Grammys will serve no award before its time, that doesn’t lessen the achievements being honored in these categories. Expect the blockbuster “Greatest Showman” music to get some of the awards love here it was denied elsewhere — almost certainly for compilation soundtrack, if nothing else. “This Is Me” has better odds of winning the prize for song written for visual media than the tune that beat it at the previous Oscars, “Coco’s” “Remember Me” — but it’s up against two 2018 powerhouses, Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” and Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars,” so anything could happen in that category. Score soundtrack is a legit tossup, too, as big-name 2017 holdovers John Williams and Alexandre Desplat (the latest Oscar winner) could split the vote of folks with long memories and fall to the fresher and more multi- ethnic “Black Panther,” from Ludwig Göransson.
Music video has the Carters, whose album was received almost as an afterthought to their video, not boding well, versus a meme clip that stuck longer in the memory and seems the likeliest winner, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” The music film category includes documentaries that ran the gamut from perceived hit jobs to hagiographies, but “Itzhak” and “The King” seem to have found that sweet spot.
Musical theater album is just not a fair fight: It throws in a TV cast album, for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” seen by 9 million-plus in one evening, versus Broadway shows that play to as few as 900 a night. There, Recording Academy members could think that John Legend already has too many awards, or, conversely, that Sara Bareilles and Alice Cooper deserve what would be their first Grammys.
THE VISUAL MEDIA GRAMMYS SHOWCASE HOW MUSIC IS THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga perform “Shallow” in ”A Star Is Born.”