David: Sheldon Pearce is a music writer and editor of the New Yorker's Goings-On About Town section. This guy is so immersed in music that where other critics write up a year-end top 10 list, Sheldon writes a top 30. The Grammy Awards are a little bit vexed for Sheldon. Are you particularly into the Grammys? Is it a big night for you?
Sheldon Pearce: It used to be. I think there has been too much getting it wrong over the last 10, 12, 15 years, that it really doesn't mean that much to me anymore. I sort of understand how it works as this thing that is trying to get a certain number of viewers on a Sunday Night, and not really this thing that is aligned with the critical discourse, or even really popular interest.
David: Now, the idea here is we're going to go to three categories and you're going to pluck one of the nominees out and get rid of it and put something new in that you think has been overlooked. Does that sound good to you?
Sheldon: Right. Just generally there's an outlier normally in every single category that just feels like it doesn't fit for some reason. It's not that I agree with all the other picks. It's just that this feels wrong-
David: And egregious [laughs].
Sheldon: -and I'm just addressing these-- yes, adding this as a corrective, if you will.
David: Well, then let's start with the Best New Artists category. Who are you excited about in this category and who can you get rid of and replace them with?
Sheldon: Well, the artists that seem to make a lot of sense to me, Olivia Rodrigo, who obviously had just a meteoric rise from Disney Channel fame to the pop culture sphere at large. Arlo Parks, this funky singer-songwriter who has been buzzing a little bit over the past few years and really took off last year. Then, Japanese Breakfast, who not only had a really great album released last year, but a really great best-selling memoir.
The one that really stood out to me as feeling weird was Finneas. People may know him as the producer/brother of the pop phenom Billie Eilish. It feels like he is here strictly because he is Billie Eilish's brother. He released a project last year, didn't really seem to move the needle one way or the other, and the music wasn't even that interesting.
David: Do you think it's so the camera can pan to Billie Eilish's [unintelligible 00:02:49] audience?
Sheldon: One hundred percent.
David: If that's the case, and we're getting rid of Finneas, Billie Eilish's brother, who are we replacing him with?
Sheldon: I would replace Finneas with this poet singer-songwriter Mustafa from Toronto, Drake-endorsed. He has been an activist on the local Toronto scene for a long time. Last year, he released a really gorgeous album, When Smoke Rises, that he describes this inner-city folk music. A lot of soft guitars, but there's also light wrapped drums. He sings about the struggles of his community in this really intimate, sensitive way that speaks to his poetry background.
David: Not long ago, you wrote a piece for newyorker.com about Mustafa's debut album, When Smoke Rises. You said this, "As Mustafa notes on Ali, "Words can't stop bullets," and as the limitations of his chosen medium set in, he is beset by some truly tormenting revelations. Let's listen to the song Ali.
Ali, you know our hearts were at their fullest
Ali, there were no words to stop the bullets
David: Tell us a little bit about what's going on here lyrically and in terms of his story.
Sheldon: Mustafa has been at the center of the Toronto music and poetry scenes since he was 12 years old. He has seen and experienced a lot of violence firsthand, and so his poetry has always reflected the environment that he grew up in, connecting with those that he sees on the day-to-day. Not looking out to a city and saying, "Hey, here's what's going on inside the city," but connecting directly with his peers and being like, "Please, can get we find some resolution to this issue that is plaguing us?"
You should've left your home
I told you to go
I told you it wouldn't be safe
I told you it wasn't the way
You should've left your home
I told you to go
David: Sheldon, the next category is a big one. It's Song of the Year, and there's a lot of heavy hitters out there. You've got Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X to name a few. Which song do you think needs to be trimmed or replaced for Song of the Year?
Sheldon: The song that I would pull is Ed Sheeran's Bad Habits. It feels harsh to come at Ed this way. I don't even think this is necessarily the worst song. One thing I will say about the Grammys is generally there'll be like-- if you were to pick out 10 songs and say these songs in some way tell the story of the year in music prior, I think that is a more accurate representation of what the Grammys do in modern times. With that said, the Ed Sheeran song just doesn't feel like it fits into that landscape.
David: Well, Ed Sheeran is feeling some pain now. Who are you slipping in, in his place?
Sheldon: I'm replacing Ed Sheeran with WizKid and Tems’s Essence.
Say I wanna leave you in the mornin'
But I need you now, yeah, yeah
I find you, I give you all you needin'
I know you what you like
I feel it comin'
Time is of the essence
I tried to teach you
David: I really like that. It's so great. What can you tell us about WizKid, and why do you think that song Essence should have been nominated?
Sheldon: WizKid has been at the forefront of the African pop movement and bridging the gap between African pop and the pop music of America. Essence was just such a massive breakthrough moment, really resonated with American audiences in a way that African pop hadn't previously. It was a top 10 charted single. It just feels like a major omission to keep it off this list when it played such a critical role in the music of the last year.
And na me dey make you free up your mind
Say your body talk to me nice
David: All right. For Album of the Year, our third category, who do you think will win Album of the Year and why? Who will win?
Sheldon: If I were to pick a winner, I would expect Olivia Rodrigo's Sour to pull it out. Just such a Zeitgeist moment in music, and most people pointed to her as the next Taylor Swift, which is ironic that Taylor Swift is also nominated in this category.
David: Does that mean you're bumping her out of the list and you're going to come up with somebody new?
Sheldon: No, the person that I'm going to bump is H.E.R, Back of My Mind. This is the third time she's been nominated for Album of the Year with almost no cultural footprint to speak of.
David: Ouch, ouch.
Sheldon: I wrote about the album. The album is perfectly fine. I just don't think it's reflective of this Grammy mindset, where it's like here we are honoring the people in music that people know. It's like, you've got Justin Bieber, you've got Doja Cat, you've got Billie Eilish, you've got Lil Nas X, you got Taylor Swift, you've got Kanye West and you've got H.E.R.
One of those things is not like the others.
David: That's cool.
Sheldon: I would replace that album with Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales. Similar type artist, similar type album, far more ambitious, far more representative of the last year, really resonated with critics, resonated with listeners also in a way that Back of My Mind has not. It's like if you have the opportunity-
David: This is an especially cold move you're pulling here, because Jazmine Sullivan and H.E.R. are musical collaborators.
Sheldon: Yes. H.E.R. is featured on the Jazmine Sullivan album, in fact [laughs].
David: Oh, ouch. What do you want to hear from the album Heaux Tales by Jazmine Sullivan? What song are you recommending here most?
Sheldon: Pick Up Your Feelings.
David: Let's listen You say that I've been actin' different, yeah
Funny how I finally flipped the script on you
When you the one who's double-dippin', yeah
You so sloppy, how I caught you slippin' up
You're off the lease, run me my keys
No more poppin' up to hit it, yeah
I ain't even got the miles to trip on you
New phone (who is this?)
Brand new, like the whip
Rack it up, no assist
Main bitch I ain't average
Wake up, need a zip
David: Someone's been caught double-dipping. It's an infidelity song [chuckles].
Sheldon: Yes. That is actually reflective of a lot of this record. A lot of it is about perspectives of womanhood, dealing with cheating guys, guys who aren't worth the time that women are putting into them,-
David: There's a new theme.
Sheldon: -who aren't holding up their end of the bargain. At every point, she's looking to friends and other artists for their specific perspectives on this tried and true topic, and she really ends up getting this panoramic view of an old hat theme.
David: Thanks so much, Sheldon.
Sheldon: Thank you, too, David.
Boy you had your fun
But I had enough
Now I'm really done
I deserve so much more than you gave to me
So now I'm savin' me
And I made my peace
So you can run them streets
But don't forget to come and pick up your, ooh, feelings
And don't leave no pieces (Don't leave no)
You need to hurry and pick up your, ooh, feelings
David: The New Yorker's Sheldon Pearce. We heard music from Mustafa off his album When Smoke Rises, Essence by Wizkid featuring Tems, Jazmine Sullivan's Pick Up Your Feelings off the album, Heaux Tales. You can read Sheldon Pearce on pop and rap and rock and jazz and more at newyorker.com. He always brings new insights to artists you know, and he'll introduce you to a whole lot of artists you don't.
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