Hear Us Out: The Music Industry Had a Spate of Its Own Political Battles This November

Grammy snubs, Congressional failings and Scooter Braun headlined a month of politicking

November 30, 2020 8:57 am
november music
November was good to some artists like Taylor Swift, while others like The Weeknd were stuck playing Grammy politics.
Mike Falco

This is Hear Us Out, a column charting the storylines and releases that mattered — to us, and hopefully you — in the world of music over the past month.

After a week spent glued to the TV in anticipation, November finally gave us the results of the presidential election. And while it was a relief to many to be able to finally put that behind us, the music world spent the month reminding us of the behind-the-scenes politicking many artists have to do just to earn the recognition they deserve.

After some high-profile snubs, the Grammys were once again accused of playing favorites, forcing artists to “campaign” for themselves and even accepting bribes. Taylor Swift’s ongoing battle with Scooter Braun over the ownership of her masters proved that even the biggest pop star doesn’t wield as much power as you’d think, and after nearly a year of lobbying Congress to provide some relief, independent music venues are still being left out in the cold. With that in mind, these are the biggest storylines and most notable releases from the past month.

Artists Speak Out About Grammy Snubs

It wouldn’t be the Grammys without some glaring omissions and questionable nods, but this year’s nominations — announced last week — included some real head-scratchers. And while in past years, most musicians would bite their tongue to appear gracious or preserve any chances they had at being nominated in the future, this year, they’re speaking out about their snubs.

After he failed to earn a single nomination, The Weeknd took to Twitter, writing, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.” Later, he followed it up with another post, revealing he had been planning a Grammy performance for weeks: “Collaboratively planning a performance for weeks to not being invited? In my opinion zero nominations = you’re not invited!”

Pop star Halsey also accused the Recording Academy of corruption after her album Manic failed to earn any nominations. “I’ve been thinking and wanted to choose my words carefully because a lot of people have extended sympathy and apology to me since the Grammy nominations,” she wrote on her Instagram Stories. “The Grammys are an elusive process. It can often be about behind-the-scenes private performances, knowing the right people, campaigning through the grapevine, with the right handshakes and ‘bribes’ that can be just ambiguous enough to pass as ‘not bribes.’ And if you get that far, it’s about committing to exclusive TV performances and making sure you help the Academy make their millions in advertising on the night of the show.

“Perhaps sometimes it is (!!!) but it’s not always about the music or quality or culture,” she continued. “Just wanted to get that off my chest. @theweeknd deserves better, and Manic did too [woman shrugging emoji] perhaps it’s unbecoming of me to say so but I can’t care anymore. While I am THRILLED for my talented friends who were recognized this year, I am hoping for more transparency or reform. But I’m sure this post will blacklist me anyway.”

The comments from The Weeknd and Halsey come after former president/CEO of the Recording Academy Deborah Dugan sued the company for wrongful termination last year and alleged that the Grammys were full of “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards, all made possible by the ‘boys’ club’ mentality and approach to governance at the Academy.”

You can read more of our thoughts on this year’s biggest Grammy snubs here.

Taylor Swift Takes Us Inside folklore and Vows to Keep Re-Recording Her Old Music

One artist who seems to be back in the Grammys’ good graces, however, is Taylor Swift. After Reputation failed to earn her a nomination in any of the major categories and Lover was left out of the Album of the Year category, folklore has earned her six nominations, including Album of the Year and Song of the Year. Those nods cap off a pretty big month for Swift which also saw the release of her behind-the-scenes Disney+ doc folklore: the long pond studio sessions.

But November wasn’t all good news for the pop star. She also found out that record exec Scooter Braun sold her Big Machine masters — the master rights to her first six albums — to an investment fund for somewhere upwards of $300 million. Swift posted a statement about the sale and a copy of the letter she sent to the company that made the purchase to Twitter, vowing to continue re-recording her old material.

Time’s Running Out for Small Venues

We sound a little like a broken record when it comes to this subject, but as we head into the end of the year, Congress still has failed to act and provide relief for the thousands of small, independent music venues across the country who have been financially devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The longer those venues are forced to remain closed as safety precautions, the closer they come to permanently shutting down without government assistance — something that would ruin our country’s vibrant music scenes for generations to come.

With Congress slated to return from their Thanksgiving vacation today, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas — one of the co-sponsors of the Save Our Stages act, which would provide $10 billion to live performance venues that have been shut down due to the pandemic — urged his peers to take action, saying, “It’s a small but important part of this, to help save some of the music and other entertainment venues … ranging from Broadway shows to symphony orchestras to live music in Austin, Texas.”

Recommended Reads

This month at InsideHook, we revisited 1980, the year the movies killed disco; we wrote an ode to Gaucho, Steely Dan’s moody, cynical masterpiece, on its 40th anniversary; we put together a beginner’s guide to Black country music; and we took a look at how one plan to save independent music venues may actually destroy them. (As always, you can find all our music coverage here.)

But beyond our own work, there were plenty of fascinating music pieces worth checking out this month. Pitchfork introduced us to Shameika Stepney, immortalized in Fiona Apple’s “Shameika,” and revealed that the two former schoolmates have rekindled their friendship in the wake of Apple’s track. Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney interviewed each other for Rolling Stone and shared what it was like for them to pen new albums in isolation, and the New York Times explained why pianists often know so little about pianos.

Key Album Releases

Lissie, Thank You To The Flowers EP
At this point in her career, Lissie is almost more well-known for her creative covers of other people’s material than her own. Her renditions of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” both have millions of views on YouTube, and her 2012 covers EP Covered Up With Flowers proved she’s gifted at reimagining other artists’ work and making it her own. Thank You To the Flowers is more of the same, driven by some very solid song choices that play to her strengths, including “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball,” Lana Del Rey’s “Changes” and Paula Cole’s ’90s hit “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”

The Dirty Knobs, Wreckless Abandon
The Dirty Knobs started as a side project for Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, and for over a decade they were just that. But after the tragic passing of Tom Petty in 2017, the group became Campbell’s primary creative outlet. Now, 15 years after they first started playing together, The Dirty Knobs have finally put out their debut album, Wreckless Abandon. Petty fans will find plenty to love on it, and it features contributions from Benmont Tench and Chris Stapleton. (You can read more in our interview with Mike Campbell here.)

Megan Thee Stallion, Good News
November was a big month for Megan Thee Stallion. Just four days before receiving four Grammy nominations, including one for Best New Artist, she dropped her new album Good News — and it’s a doozy. Whether she’s exuding body positivity on the catchy “Body” or addressing the incident from over the summer when she was shot in both feet by Tory Lanez on “Shots Fired,” delivering her side of the story (along with a message to Lanez) over the same sample the Notorious B.I.G. used on “Who Shot Ya?”, the 25-year-old rapper sounds self-assured as ever. Good News is technically a debut album, but she’s got the confidence of someone who’s been doing this for decades.

Songs You Need to Hear

Phoebe Bridgers covers a Merle Haggard holiday classic; The Raveonettes and Poppy each offer their own Yuletide originals; Lana Del Rey swaps “Summetime Sadness” for George Gershwin’s take on the season; Chilly Gonzales enlists the help of Jarvis Cocker and Feist for a lovely cover of Purple Mountains’ “Snow Is Falling In Manhattan”; Steve Earle releases the first single from his forthcoming album JT, in which he covers the material of his late son, Justin Townes Earle; and Alice Cooper offers his rendition of a Velvet Underground favorite. You can listen to all that and more in the playlist below.

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