But if any guy came close to upstaging them, it was Chris Brown. And not necessarily in a good way. Brown, who performed two songs on the telecast, did not emerge unscathed from what was foolishly touted as his GRAMMY “comeback””as if he is a supernova among stars, and three years is such an eternity. Some viewers were outraged that he was invited to perform at the ceremony at all, after what he did to his ex, Rihanna, during GRAMMY season three years ago.
The unfortunate irony of Houston’s passing on GRAMMY weekend is that, like Rihanna, she had been the victim of domestic abuse by another Brown, her ex-husband Bobby. And the honor of paying tribute to her went to Jennifer Hudson, whose mother, brother and nephew were murdered, allegedly by the estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, just a few years ago. If anyone knows that people often hurt the ones they claim to love, she does.
But that one display of good taste doesn’t let the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences off the hook. Brown’s inclusion in the ceremony almost felt like an unintentional f**k you to Houston, to Rihanna, to any woman who has suffered because of domestic abuse.
The big question, though, is this: Has Brown suffered enough? It has, after all, been three years since he pummeled Rihanna in a car. Is it time for us to move on as Brown and NARAS, apparently, both have.
For Brown’s many GRAMMY-night detractors (which included singers Miranda Lambert and Michelle Branch as well as actors Wil Wheaton and Eric Stonestreet), it might be hard to move on when Brown has never acknowledged the gravity of the situation in any meaningful way that didn’t seem like a public-relations pose. Whether he’s onstage, in videos, plugging his music on the morning talk-show circuit, or ranting on Twitter, he never seems sorry enough.
Affairs of the heart and affairs of state. The two have been intertwined in music”sometimes harmoniously , sometimes cacophonously”since around the time Bob Dylan declared that the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
In the ’80s, pop stars added a humanitarian angle, which spawned Band-Aid, USA for Africa and, since 9/11, the occasional celebrity-studded telethon during which stoic actors and reverent musicians seek monetary relief for victims of international catastrophes. Pop stars pose with world leaders; political hopefuls adopt rock classics as campaign themes; Lady Gaga and Madonna stand up for gay rights; Sonny Bono even ran for Congress and won.
In recent years, the politics of dancing”of music, in general”have been less about policy and more about moving and feeling good. That hasn’t stopped top stars from making political stands onstage and off. But if you’re going to try to save the world in five minutes of song”as U2 has been doing for the better part of three decades”or publicly put your faith in a specific candidate on the eve of a Presidential election year, you’d better do it well.
Which is exactly what Kelly Clarkson didn’t do on December 29. The woman best known for being the first American Idol winner and scoring frothy hits like “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “My Life Would Suck Without You,” publicly endorsed US Presidential candidate Ron Paul for the Republican Party nomination on Twitter”of all places”and, unfortunately, with all the insight and depth of a high school student discussing student-council elections.
I love Ron Paul,” she tweeted via her WhoSay page. “I liked him a lot during the last republican nomination and no one gave him a chance. If he wins the nomination for the Republican party in 2012 he’s got my vote. Too bad he probably won’t.”
Newspapers, fellow politicians and even Hollywood stars endorse and support candidates every election cycle, and pop stars show up every four years to perform at Presidential inaugurations, regardless of their political affiliation. But when they enter the political ring with their ringing endorsements in 140 characters or less on Twitter, it can be dangerous for both parties”and not just the political ones.
The stars risk not only alienating fans who support the opposite side but sounding uninformed as well. (It’s hard to get coherent points across in Twitter’s tiny comment box.) The candidates risk guilt (and plummeting poll numbers) by association with shallow pop stars.
It’s hard to tell whether Paul’s subsequent placings in the Republican primaries”No. 3 in Iowa on January 3, No. 2 in New Hampshire on January 10”had anything to do with Clarkson, and his effect on her album sales are equally unclear. Her fifth album, Stronger, has racked up ho-hum sales since its release October, and while the first single , “Mr. Know It All,” reached No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, overall, response to it has been tepid. For Katy Perry, it might be considered a flop.
Depending on how you interpret the numbers, Clarkson either flourished or faltered in the week following her Twitter alliance with Paul. According to Billboard.com, Mr. Know It All sold 123,000 downloads (it’s highest weekly tally in seventeen weeks of chart action), and jumped from No. 32 to No. 20 on the Hot 100, but Billboard credits the normal holiday sales surge for active singles. Though its 55 percent digital sales increase was the second largest in the Top 50, all but three titles in the Top 75 enjoyed a boost in sales.
Meanwhile, overall sales of the album actually dropped 40 percent for the week ending January 1 (41,000 to 25,000), while digital sales increased 232 percent (to 14,000). As Billboard sees it, however, that boost probably has more to do with iTunes’ heavy promotion and $7.99 sales-pricing of Stronger (which also may have influenced digital sales of the single) rather than the artist’s political stance, which, in the end, might damage her reputation among her more liberal Democratic-leaning fans.
She’s a formerly apolitical singer with a substantial gay fan base backing a candidate from a party that doesn’t support gay marriage. Does that mean she feels the same way? In the hours after her tweet, Clarkson engaged in a war of words with some of her followers, many of whom dubbed Paul racist and homophobic. (Incidentally, Clarkson’s fellow pop singer Michelle Branch, sided with Team Kelly, tweeting “I wholeheartedly agree” to her Paul endorsement. Luckily for Branch”in this context, at least”she’s not exactly tops of the pops anymore, so few seemed to notice.) Eventually, Clarkson took to WhoSay in her own defense.
“I am really sorry if I have offended anyone. Obviously that was not my intent. I do not support racism. I support gay rights, straight rights, women’s rights, men’s rights, white/black/purple/orange rights. I like Ron Paul because he believes in less government and letting the people (all of us) make the decisions and mold our country. That is all. Out of all of the Republican nominees, he’s my favorite.”
Too bad she didn’t say that in the first place. Pop singers are entitled to their political opinions like everybody else, but when they begin publicly endorsing controversial candidates like Paul, who has been targeted for racist newsletters sent out under his name in the late ˜80s and early ˜90s (which he’s disavowed), they should proceed with great caution.
In the Twitter age, when stars can interact directly with fans, it’s more important to be mindful of what you say and how you say it, which makes entering the political fray an even more slippery slope, especially for stars like Clarkson, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Adele, who are among the most influential people on the planet. Young people want to dress like them, act like them, be them, even many who are over the voting age of eighteen.
When fans start wanting to vote like them, too… Well, if they don’t have something insightful and enlightening to add to the political discussion, it’s probably best to stay out of it and just shut up and sing.
Every November, my family gathers around our Thanksgiving table and takes turns explaining what they are thankful for. This year, I can imagine my turn sounding a little something like this: Right now, I’m especially thankful for¦ the best month in country album releases this year! Despite the stunned look on my family’s faces, I stand by my some-what shallow decision. And once you hear the three upcoming CD’s debuts, I’m sure you’ll be revising your Thanksgiving monologues as well.
For our first course of November music bliss (arriving November 3rd), we have the delicious Carrie Underwood serving up her third album, Play On. Having mastered the art of balancing ballads of heartbreak with upbeat toe tappers, Underwood’s new release will not let fans down. Her recent single, Cowboy Casanova is a small glimpse of what this power-packing diva has to offer country radio with her new album. Underwood began making waves after winning American Idol in 2005, but her ten Number 1 singles and Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year award, proves she is the real deal. With Play On, we can only hope that she continues her streak as the reigning queen of country music.
Up next is a dish best compared to your aunt’s new casserole recipe that she is testing out on
your Thanksgiving table. On November 10th Michelle Branch, who has dabbled in pop as well as country, is coming out with her first solo country record, Everything Comes and Goes. During her stint in The Wreckers with friend Jessica Harp, Branch achieved a Number One country single with Leave the Pieces so her future seems promising. Since the duo’s demise, both members of the pop-rock/country duo have plunged head first into solo careers in country. The first single off the record, Sooner or Later certainly has the potential to garner Michelle new fans, while hopefully proving she can stand on her own in the country music community. Maybe her CD will become a staple for long car drives, study sessions,or party mixes, just as your aunt’s recipe could become a new family favorite.
Now for dessert. How about a helping of soul food? Just take a taste of Josh Turner’s soulful baritone with his new album, Haywire, also due out November 10th. With two of his three albums already achieving certified Platinum status, Josh is no stranger to quality work. On this new record, songs like Why Don’t We Just Dance indicate that Turner is getting back on the Platinum pony. Turner has proudly stated that this album is the first one that he feels truly explores his vocal range. But, from what I can tell, the entire album will be one continuous, successful high note.
No matter what you choose to feast on this month, from cooking to country, make sure you truly savor your selection. With such a fine buffet of available treats, there is no reason your ears, or taste buds, should be left unsatisfied.