Editor's Note: This post comes from our fabulous music writer Andrea Swensson; you can follow her regularly at the Local Current Blog.
Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver, poses backstage with the award for best alternative music album for "Bon Iver" at the 54th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012 in Los Angeles.
Mark J. Terrill/AP
It's not every day you get the opportunity to see Justin Vernon of Bon Iver tucked into a theater seat behind Rihanna and Paul McCartney. But such is the nature of the Grammys, whose increasingly schizophrenic and chaotic approach to celebrating the fragmented music industry kept returning back to lesser-known artists with Midwestern ties during last night's ceremony.
Vernon was a big winner at last night's awards, taking home the coveted Best New Artist award and beating out more mainstream artists like Nicki Minaj and J. Cole.
"It's hard to accept, because when I started to make songs, I did it for the inherent reward of making songs. So I'm a little bit uncomfortable up here," Vernon said, his acceptance speech brimming with earnestness while his girlfriend Kathleen Edwards beamed at him from her seat. "But with that discomfort I do have a sense of gratitude, to all the nominees, and the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here, all the bands I toured with, all the bands that inspired me and all the artists."
"I also want to say -- sorry," he said, pausing to apologize for his nervousness. "I also want to say thank you to all the voters, of course. Sweet. Sweet hook-up."
The Best New Artist win was a surprising one, especially given the mainstream viewership's expectations that awards will go to familiar faces and Top 40 celebrities, and follows in the footsteps of last year's similarly surprising Grammy nods to Esperanza Spalding (who edged out Justin Bieber in the Best New Artist category) and Arcade Fire (who won Album of the Year). While it's considered a big win for fans of independent music, it also drives home just how "famous" a musician has to be these days to register as a blip on the radar of the average American viewer. Naturally, the Who is Bon Iver? Tumblr lit up like a switchboard in the wake of the awards show, with a number of viewers puzzling over this new band "Bonny Bear."
In addition to the Best New Artist win, Bon Iver took home an award for Best Alternative Music Album for their 2011 sophomore release, Bon Iver, Bon Iver. They were nominated for a total of four awards, but lost out to Adele's massive hit "Rolling in the Deep" in both the Best Song and Best Record of the Year categories.
Speaking of Adele, Twin Cities music fans might have recognized a familiar face behind the six-time Grammy award winner last night. When she took the stage to accept her biggest award, Album of the Year for her record 21, she was accompanied by a line-up of songwriters and producers who helped assemble the record including Minnesota's own Dan Wilson. Wilson, who started out his career in the Minneapolis band Trip Shakespeare and later found commercial success with Semisonic, has transitioned into a co-songwriter role recently and has helped pen hits for the Dixie Chicks (whose song "Not Ready to Make Nice" earned him a Song of the Year trophy in 2007), Mike Doughty, Dierks Bentley, and another of this year's Best New Artist nominees, the Band Perry. For more on Wilson's success as a songwriter, Jon Bream penned an excellent profile in the Star Tribune.
Adele also gave a personal shout-out to Wilson while accepting the award for Best Pop Vocal Performance for her song "Someone Like You," which she said she wrote with the help of Wilson, noting that "My life changed when I wrote this song."
Additional Minnesotan artists who were nominated this year included Brian Setzer, whose Setzer Goes Multi-Instrumental lost to Booker T. Jones' The Road From Memphis in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category, and Stokley Williams of Mint Condition, whose contributions to Kelly Price's single "Not My Daddy" earned nods in the Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song categories.
Posted at 3:32 PM on February 13, 2012
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Television
A new documentary produced partly in Minnesota shows how thousands of African Americans were imprisoned on trumped-up charges after the Civil War and leased to the owners of factories, farms and mines as slave laborers.
"Slavery By Another Name" airs tonight at 8pm on PBS
MPR's Cathy Wurzer discussed the documentary, "Slavery By Another Name," with author Douglas Blackmon and producer Catherine Allen. The film is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Blackmon and was produced in conjunction with Twin Cities Public Television. It airs on PBS stations around the country tonight.
The history most students learned was that the number of African American prisoners was due to a high crime rate among former slaves who "couldn't handle" freedom, but Blackmon said it soon became clear this was nothing more than a fabrication:
There's no evidence that that ever happened. In fact, it's the opposite. The crime waves that occurred by and large were the aftermath of the war and whites coming back from fighting in the Civil War and settling scores with people and all sorts of renegade activity that didn't involve black people at all, but they were blamed for it, and that was then used as a kind of ruse for why these incredibly brutal new legal measures then began to be put in place.
You can read the entire interview here, or listen to it by clicking on the link below. "Slavery By Another Name" airs tonight at 8 p.m. on PBS.
Posted at 6:10 PM on February 13, 2012
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Music
Why do some songs go straight to our gut and occasionally even make us cry?
According to the British psychologist John Sloboda, the emotional trigger can be traced to a musical device called an "appoggiatura" - a type of ornamental note that creates a dissonant sound.
A recent Wall Street Journal article used Sloboda's theory to deconstruct Adele's Grammy-winning song "Someone Like You."
That led the folks at NPR's All Things Considered to call up Twin Cities' songwriter Dan Wilson, who co-wrote the song, to find out just how intentional his use of the "appoggiatura" was. Here's his response:
I first heard of the term 'appoggiatura' in the Wall Street Journal article. It talked about how Adele and I had used this secret trick by putting appoggiaturas in, but I didn't know what that was.
A good song allows us, the listeners, to walk through the songwriter or composer's thoughts and emotions as they wrote the song. That's why when you listen to The Replacements, you get this kind of giddy drunk feeling, probably because they were drunk when they recorded and wrote their song.
With Adele, we wrote this song that was about a desperately heartbreaking end of a relationship, and she was really, really feeling it at the time, and we were imaginatively creating. That walked her back through that experience. And when you and l listen to that song, we walk through her shoes through that heartbreaking experience -- but it's in our imagination. And so instead of being devastating, we're like children play-acting. We get to have an imaginative experience.
Hey, if I had a scientific method for making a heartbreaking hit, I would do it every day...But it's not so easy.