On the unfortunate history and effects of “Harlem Shake Syndrome (H.S.S.)”

For my next editorial, I’d like to discuss a certain trend in Music that has been plaguing the Billboard charts for several years now. I’ve referred to it in my reviews in the past, having dubbed it “H.S.S.”, or “Harlem Shake Syndrome”, after the first clear example of it.

It started because Billboard decided to start counting Youtube views as part of their chart formulation. Their actual goal in doing this was to measure the number of times legitimate music videos were viewed, but they seem to have been unable, for some reason, to create a distinction in their data between official music videos and the random insanity that populates Youtube and other popular video sites. Thus, when something that never would have made the charts otherwise becomes a hit based solely on Youtube views (or views from any other publicly open video website), it constitutes H.S.S..

Now, Youtube viral ‘hits’ were a thing well before H.S.S. entered the picture, but they weren’t really ‘hits’ in the Billboard chart sense…they didn’t actually chart, they were just popular memes that happened to be in the form of a song. The first thing to really take off in this dubious market was the unintentionally hilarious “Miracles” by Insane Clown Posse, but the definitive example is probably “Friday” by Rebecca Black. The latter song did technically chart, but only marginally (if I recall correctly, it only got to 86 on the Hot 100), and that only happened because someone made the song available on Itunes in an attempt to further cash in on this disaster. As for “Gangnam Style”, while it was a huge hit drawn from a viral video, it wasn’t an example of H.S.S., because the Youtube views themselves did not contribute directly to its success on the charts. It won its chart success the old-fashioned way…because people were actually buying the single and listening to it on the radio, showing that they actually liked the song itself even apart from the video (I don’t blame them…it really is an excellent song).

The first real example of the phenomenon, and the one I chose as its namesake, was “The Harlem Shake”, a song by Trap musician Baauer that became briefly popular due to an internet meme. The song itself was not really bad music by the standards of its genre niche, but it clearly had no place on the Pop charts, and the meme that launched it is now only remembered for its role in launching this phenomenon.

The second example of H.S.S., Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”, introduced another variation on the formula. This song probably would have been a hit in any case (after all, her last single peaked at Number Two without the help of a viral video), but it seems unlikely that it would have shot straight up to Number One or stayed there as long as it did were it not paired with a video in which Miley Cyrus appeared naked. I can’t say I see the appeal myself, but a surprising number of people apparently really wanted to see that, and that, combined with the newly-begun counting of Youtube views, made the song a vastly bigger success than it could plausibly have been otherwise.

A few more Youtube novelty tracks, such as “The Fox” and “Chinese Food” (a blatant attempt by the creators of “Friday” to cash in on the new rules), charted in the remainder of 2013, but ironically, pointing and laughing at these garish disasters stopped being fun once every point and every laugh contributed to launching them onto the actual Billboard charts. Indeed, the H.S.S. phenomenon killed the Youtube trend of viral camp sensations for years almost single-handedly, at least as far as music was concerned.

However, the phenomenon re-emerged in late 2014 in a new form connected to another then-fashionable video website, Vine. Due to its similarity in subject matter and style to the party rap of the mid-2000s, some people have dubbed the variant of Hip-Hop that emerged from this phenomenon ‘Nu-Crunk’, but the term most associated with it is ‘Vine Rap’, because it was almost entirely dependent on Vine for its popularity and its place on the Billboard charts. Prominent examples of this genre include Rae Sremmurd, Silento, Bobby Schmurda, O.T. Genasis, TWayne, and ILoveMemphis. You’ll notice that nearly all of the people I just named are one-hit wonders, and it’s worth noting that the few ‘Nu-Crunk’ acts that had any degree of legitimacy or staying power, such as Fetty Wap and Young Thug, were usually the ones that had little to no dependence on Vine. It’s also worth noting that, apart from a few holdover dregs from the Bro-Country genre, the Vine Rap trend was responsible for virtually all the bad songs on the charts in 2015, an otherwise glorious year for music.

Fortunately for everyone, Vine and its associated career-launching proved to be a flash in the pan, but the specter of H.S.S. continues to haunt us to this day. Over the course of the last few years, Youtube novelty memes slowly start to creep back onto the charts. The most prominent example of this was when Rae Sremmurd, the only Vine Rap act to survive the demise of Vine itself, once again benefited from the charts’ fuzzy data-gathering process, this time with “Black Beatles”, which became the unofficial theme song of an internet meme that I gather was called ‘the mannequin challenge’. This was enough to keep it at Number One on the charts for more than a month.

H.S.S. proper has become somewhat rarer in the last year or so, although its near cousin, the neo-payola of rigged streaming promotion, has become an even more destructive force on the charts. Still, with actual music streaming services accounting for most of the charts’ source data, this phenomenon seemed to be fading: those platforms don’t tend to create memes the way the video streaming platforms did, and H.S.S. is by definition dependent on meme culture.

But if you needed proof that H.S.S. hadn’t died out forever, we’ve certainly gotten it in the past few months—the current Number One song in the country, “Old Town Road”, owes its success almost entirely to this phenomenon. The song, an embarrassing collaboration between C-list rapper Lil Nas X and superannuated Country music embarrassment Billy Ray Cyrus, amounts to little more than an inane fragment, and the only thing anyone seems to like about it is its accompanying viral video…a video that has apparently been sufficient to keep it at the top of the charts for over a month in the face of some far more legit competition, including not one but two smash hit singles by Taylor Swift.

But here’s the thing–these ‘hits’ aren’t real. I mean, the songs themselves are of course very real, but their perceived success is an illusion created by the criteria on which the Billboard charts are based. After all, the Billboard charts are supposed to reflect the reality of which songs are popular, not create it. And since no-one seems to have trouble dismissing the year-end charts from the 1990s as a ridiculous fiction created by Billboard’s faulty standards, this situation should not be treated any differently just because it’s happening in the present tense. These songs are not actually among the biggest Pop music hits in the Country, and the fact that Billboard says they are does nothing change that.

Yes, some of these songs were, in some sense, among the biggest Pop culture phenomena in the United States during their brief popularity, but the ‘success’ they achieved is not the kind of success the Billboard charts are supposed to measure. If Billboard really wanted to measure all use of music in any context, “Happy Birthday To You” would be permanently entrenched at Number One.

Given that the last time Billboard failed to adjust to changing standards and technical progress, it resulted in a decade-long period of near-irrelevance, I can’t blame them too much for erring on the opposite side this time, but the result was essentially the same. If H.S.S. is an unintended side effect of Billboard’s attempts to measure legitimate views of music videos, they were unnecessary sloppy about it. If they truly thought viral internet success was something the Pop charts should take into account, they’re just idiots contributing to the dumbing-down of our culture, a process with which, for reasons I shouldn’t have to tell you, we do not need any more help at the moment.

The Vine Rap examples are particularly indefensible, since Vine videos were by definition only ten seconds long. No sane person could argue that a song can be legitimately ‘played’ or ‘streamed’ in any real sense on a ten-second video, and the site should never have been considered a valid source of input for the charts in the first place.

And for the record, I am aware that a fair number of these songs…even the current Number One hit…do have contributions to their charting status coming from other sources and would be hits to some extent even without H.S.S.. But while I am aware that “Old Town Road” would probably be in the Top Ten by now regardless of the direct contributions of its viral status (I’m not so sure about the indirect contributions that status makes to its publicity, but that might have happened even without the chart glitches), it almost certainly would not have reigned at Number One for over a month, or indeed still be there now, without that factor.

The bigger and longer-lasting H.S.S. hits can safely be assumed to have achieved a significantly lower position in the Pop hierarchy than the one at which they actually charted, and the minor or extremely brief ones can probably be safely disregarded altogether. And given that, for the past several years, we’ve been in a situation not too different from the aforementioned one in the Nineties, mentally correcting for the Billboard charts’ errors seems to be much more than wishful thinking at this point, and is probably necessary to come to an accurate understanding of the phenomena those charts are supposed to be measuring.

‘Lounge Music’? Seriously?

There are many genres that are generally reviled by critics and ‘serious’ music fans (and in some cases even by the general listening public), from Easy Listening and Soft Rock to Nu-Metal and Post-Grunge. Many of these genres are not entirely deserving of this treatment, and nearly all of them have at least a few good artists working in them, but of all the typical music critic’s favorite targets, none is so inexplicable or so unjustified as the hatred received by a genre commonly known as ‘Lounge Music’.

Now the thing is, you could make a case that this is a real and accurately-defined genre that happens to have been named by its detractors. At any rate, it’s certainly a category that it would be useful to have a catch-all term for, which is why some compilations of music from the era have latched onto it out of a kind of desperation, as it is the only universally recognizable term for the genre. But if you look past the negative associations that the name has picked up thanks to those detractors and take a look at what it actually describes, I think you’ll see that all this disrespect is completely unwarranted, and that the derogatory name should be retired in favor of one worthy of a genre like this one.

For those unfamiliar with the term or (more likely) its actual meaning, ‘Lounge Music’ is generally applied to the era of Great American Songbook Jazz-Pop that started in the late Forties and early Fifties and remained a reasonably strong commercial force until about the end of the Sixties, after which it trailed off into a niche genre that would occasionally produce a hit here or there as late as the late Seventies. This category includes the Capitol- and Reprise-era work by Frank Sinatra, as well as the work of Nat ‘King’ Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett and Perry Como, plus female singers like Peggy Lee, Doris Day and early Barbra Streisand (Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, and Ella Fitzgerald, like Sinatra, predated the era in question, but their later work as pop singers has been lumped into the category too). The term also encompasses the compositions of Burt Bacharach and Hal David and most of the stable of singers who perform them, as well as the less experimental and more accessible Jazz acts of the era, such as Stan Getz, Louis Prima or Herb Alpert, and a few true Easy Listening acts like Liberace, Percy Faith, or Mantovani. It is clear, then, that this is essentially a general term for the ‘traditional’ (read: non-Rock) music that was popular with the older and more traditional crowd before and during the early days of Rock’n’Roll.

Of course, any rational person would look at the preceding list of artists in this ‘genre’ and ask why anyone would ever hold it in contempt or give it a derogatory nickname in the first place. It’s especially odd given that the era immediately preceding this one (generally referred to as the ‘Swing’ era) is something most of the smarter Rock critics don’t feel qualified to complain about. You know the era I’m talking about…the one marked not only by the great Jazz and Swing bandleaders like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller, but also by several equally legendary singers (particularly Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald) who were associated with them. And while this era was admittedly a bit harder-edged and less self-indulgent that the one that came after it, the two periods have an enormous amount in common and were based on essentially the same musical influences. If you applied the modern manner of labeling genres to the music of the period, you could very well term the era of Jazz-Pop commonly labelled as ‘Lounge Music’ ‘post-Swing’.

The initial explanation for this comes when you remember that Rock as a genre was founded by young, rebellious counterculturalists who needed for emotional reasons to believe that everything their parents liked was automatically worthless. They can perhaps be forgiven in their youth and ignorance, especially since many of them did in fact create some wonderful music and break new ground that honestly needed to be broken. Less understandable is the completely irrational need of many Rock critics and fans today to convince themselves that their idols of that era were right, and that Rock somehow ‘saved’ music. In reality, it did no such thing; music was just as good and arguably better immediately before the Rock era began, especially in the period between 1958 and 1963 when close to the only good music on the charts was coming from these ‘Lounge’ acts. Even Rock’s own supposed experts often fail to see how much the genres owes to earlier musical innovations, including some from the very genre it thought it was rebelling against.

The musical Memphis tried to make this argument, too, portraying ‘White music’ as stuffy Easy Listening and ‘Black music’ (that is, R&B and early Rock) as some kind of revitalizing subversive force, but the truth is that those genres were based on the same basic influences as the Jazz that had provisioned the popular music of the previous two generations. Granted, the majority of ‘Lounge Singers’ were White, but so were Elvis, Buddy Holly, and the Beatles, so the race card Memphis tries to draw is irrelevant here since both genres were essentially the same thing…Black musical influences that would be largely co-opted by Whites; just because one was in an earlier stage in that process at that point doesn’t really make them any different.

The fact that the term ‘Lounge Music’ still proliferates, and in fact has become so ubiquitous than even fans of the style have started using it to describe the genre, tells you how deeply rooted the pet myths of Rock really are, and I await they day when Rock music finally grows up and realizes how much its parents really knew back when it took them for nothing but old fools.

Country’s Search For Another Taylor Swift…And Why It Isn’t Working

Ever since Taylor Swift left the Nashville labels and stopped allowing herself to be billed as a Country artist, Nashville has been desperately scrambling to find a replacement for what had been their primary cash cow. Now, Swift was never really a Country artist in any real sense, and, apart from perhaps her first album, never really pretended to be, but she was pigeonholed as Country due to getting her start in the Nashville music scene and was classified as such by the billboard charts. She was also by far and away the biggest “Country” artist of her time, if not of all time, so when she officially switched over to pure Pop music, it was a tremendous blow to the Nashville machine.

The most successful attempt they’ve made to replace her so far was with Kelsea Ballerini, which should tell you something about their success rate right there. Granted, Ballerini is a decent enough little Pop-Country starlet, but she’s sure as Hell no Taylor Swift. Her songs, apart from the appalling “XO” (which is basically a female version of Sam Hunt’s “Ex To See”, terrible pun and all), are pleasant enough, but they’re superficial, lacking the soul and honesty of Swift’s work.

Compare her song “Underage” to Swift’s very similar “Fifteen”. Both are about looking back on the naivete of one’s teenage years with a mix of nostalgia, amusement and regret, and “Underage” arguably goes to “darker” and more “serious” places than “Fifteen” does. But it’s written entirely in generalities, whereas “Fifteen” is full of very specific details drawn from Swift’s own life, making feel far more real and emotionally resonant. It tells you something when the thing that everyone seems to like best about Ballerini’s debut album is the production.

Probably the only other attempt to achieve any real artistic success at all is the duo of Maddie and Tae. In contrast to Ballerini, who released a terrible debut single but followed it up with a decent first album, Maddie and Tae’s first single was absolutely brilliant. Called “Girl in a Country Song”, it was a well-deserved satirical takedown of the appallingly sexist Bro-Country that dominated the Country genre at the time, laced with scornful references to a plethora of actual Bro-Country hits.

But when their actual debut album finally arrived, it became clear that these two had absolutely nothing to contribute beyond that one song. The rest of the album was a mix of pleasant but undistinguished genre exercises like “Fly”, and mildly embarrassing novelty tracks like “Shut Up and Fish”. It wasn’t exactly awful, but it was disappointingly forgettable for a duo that had seemed to have actual promise.

Finally, there is by far the worst of these attempts—the intolerable scourge of Country-Pop known as RaeLynn. This singer started out as a contestant on the Reality TV talent show The Voice (and pathetically enough, might be the biggest new star that show has ever produced), where she attached herself to Pop-Country bore Blake Shelton, who was serving as one of the show’s judges. Shelton eventually managed to land her a record deal, and after providing barely-discernible background vocals on Shelton’s horrendous “Boys Round Here”, she released an EP, entitled Me, and immediately gained the worst kind of fame one can possibly achieve: internet notoriety.

She would eventually release a full album, WildHorse, but by that time everyone had forgotten she existed, so no-one really noticed. But people noticed Me, mainly because of a song entitled “God Made Girls”. This song became briefly legendary on the internet for being both offensive to women and unbelievably stupid, and even now it’s the only thing anyone still remembers her for.

The rest of the EP wasn’t much better (neither was the album, come to that); indeed, “God Made Girls” wasn’t even the worst song on it. “Kissin’ Frogs” is just as idiotic as its title makes it sound, and “Boyfriend” is possibly the least likable “Take-Your-Boyfriend” song ever recorded, an impressive achievement given that that field also includes Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” and Cher Lloyd’s “Want U Back”.

It doesn’t help that Raelynn’s voice is one of the most unpleasant sounds known to man…frankly, she kind of sounds like a frog herself. This is odd, because usually people who get famous through Reality TV voice competitions, whatever their other faults as artists, are almost guaranteed to be at least passable singers (you don’t generally get a Miley Cyrus out of the American Idol system, is what I’m saying). In any case, if you are even willing count her as Country, RaeLynn is the worst act to debut in the genre since Justin Moore. To the extent that she’s remembered at all, it’s as a vague recollection of an internet punchline from 2014, and to be perfectly frank, that’s all she deserves.

The basic reason they’ve been so unsuccessful at trying to replace Taylor Swift, beyond the obvious fact that you don’t exactly find an immortal musical genius on every street corner, is that they don’t seem to understand what made her great, or even what made her popular. The thing that originally made Taylor Swift a star was her songwriting prowess. She can sing capably enough, but she’s not a vocal powerhouse like Kelly Clarkson, and she is gorgeous, but there are a lot of girls out there just as pretty who aren’t the biggest music star in the world.

But Nashville seems to have no interest in grooming another songwriting prodigy to take her place—they genuinely seem to believe that Swift was successful merely because she was an attractive blonde girl who sang about teen-relatable issues. So they’ve drafted an entire corp of pretty young blonde singers and tried to have professional songwriters write pastiche Taylor Swift songs for them to sing.

This might at least have been effective as a stop-gap measure if the songwriters in question had remotely understood Swift’s songwriting style, but what we generally get is bland ersatz Taylor Swift with none of the qualities that actually made her songs interesting. Then again, they apparently let RaeLynn do a fair amount of her own songwriting, so I suppose I can see why they might be leery about committing to another singer-songwriter. But that’s the only way they’re going to find another star on Swift’s level. Granted, even that is a long shot, but given the current state of the Country music industry, it would definitely be worth the effort if, again, they had the slightest clue how to actually do it.

Editorial: The 60th Annual Grammy Fiasco

I don’t think I have to tell any of you that the 60th Grammy Awards were a complete and utter fiasco. I’m not speaking so much of the broadcast itself, which while plagued with problems had a couple of genuinely worthwhile moments, particularly Kesha’s devastating performance of “Praying” and Patti LuPone’s stunning tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’m speaking more of the actual decisions made by the Recording Academy, which were so spectacularly wrong-headed that they will haunt that institution for years to come. There have been individual bone-headed calls and snubs at the Grammys before…as recently as last year, in fact…but this ceremony managed to do literally everything wrong, in a display of idiocy that will live in infamy as an illustration of just how low an awards show can sink.

The primary impetus behind this problem, at least as far as the central categories (i.e. Record, Album and Song of the Year) were concerned, was a poorly-executed attempt to pander to the political correctness claque (because, of course, doing so had worked out so well for the Oscars in the preceding two years). The Grammys had faced accusations of being “racist” because of their bias against Rap and Hip-Hop (which was actually rooted in snobbery rather than racism) for years at this point, but those accusations had become particularly strong after their decision, one year earlier, to award Adele’s 25 the Album of the Year prize over Beyonce’s Lemonade, something that even Adele in her own acceptance speech felt the need to apologize for. In an attempt to prove this assertion wrong, they favored their nominees of color over their white nominees this year, in some cases to the point of outright blindness: other than Lorde’s Melodrama, all of the Album of the Year nominees were black and/or Filipino artists nominated for Rap or R&B albums.

What sabotaged the chances of this working, other than it being an incredibly stupid idea in the first place, was the Grammy committee’s failure to take notice of two things. The first was a change in the winds of the political correctness movement, in which racial issues were temporarily out of focus and Women’s Rights issues were much more on the forefront of people’s minds. The second was the fairly obvious fact that the people of color they were favoring were all male, and the white artists they were shafting were nearly all female. So their attempts to deflect accusations of racism only led to accusations of sexism instead, with someone even making a “#Grammyssomale” hashtag in the same vein as the “#Oscarssowhite” one that started this snowball rolling in the first place.

They compounded this error by awarding the three top prizes to the weakest of the nominated albums, Bruno Mars’ 24k Magic. Kendrick Lamar’s Damn and Jay-Z’s 4:44 probably would have been nominated even without this nonsense, and choosing either of them would have made the shafting of the female nominees seem like much less of an insult. But 24k Magic, while it makes for a reasonably fun listen, was still essentially the same song nine times in a row, and it’s a song we had already heard with Mars’ single “Uptown Funk”. Moreover, “Uptown Funk” had become an instant classic due to its being such a perfectly constructed song, and without that flawless symmetry, the songs on 24k Magic come off as much less imposing. I could maybe see 24k Magic getting a Grammy nomination within the R&B category, but it’s not even a potential Album of the Year, let alone a credible winner in a year like this one.

And the irony was that all the time, the real Album of the Year, Kesha’s Rainbow, didn’t even get a nomination. Almost universally agreed by fans and critics to be the best mainstream album released in 2017, it should have been a no-brainer for the top prize, but that didn’t seem to occur to anyone on the Grammy committee. And since that album is inextricably associated in people’s minds with the “#MeToo” hashtag movement, this oversight only compounded the perceived sexism involved.

Of course, the attempt to appear non-racist can only go so far as an excuse for the bad decisions made this year: much of it can only be chalked up to the Grammy committees having their heads stuck halfway up their large intestines. For example, nominating Julia Michael’s heavy-handed “Issues” for Song of the Year while excluding Kesha’s epic lead single “Praying” was stupid in ways that had nothing to do with the racial aspect. And while Logic’s deeply moving song about suicide, “1-800-273-8255”, got a well-deserved nomination for Song of the Year, its presence only made things seem more insulting when it wound up losing to Bruno Mars’ generic dance jam “That’s What I Like”.

The Best Pop Performance/Album category was just as much of a fiasco as the top prizes, especially since many of the female nominees excluded from those races were actually nominated here, and still managed to lose undeservedly. Instead of giving Best Pop Performance to “Praying”, or Lady Gaga’s moving Country-flavored ballad “Million Reasons”, or Kelly Clarkson’s Aretha-esque “Love So Soft”, or Pink’s powerful political song “What About Us?”, they wound up giving it to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”. Now, “Shape of You” was the biggest hit of the year on the now all-but-irrelevant Billboard charts, so perhaps they felt they had to give it something. Still, while not incompetent, it is extremely unambitious, little more than a generic Club song, and it was up against several songs with far more serious and profound subject matter (that were also, perhaps more importantly, vastly better songs). Sheeran also won for his album, entitled Divide, over such better contenders as Rainbow, Lady Gaga’s excellent Joanne, and Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life. Now, Divide has some lovely moments, and is certainly a more interesting album than 24k Magic, but entirely too much of it falls into the “just-okay” category. I suppose the Grammys could have done worse in this case (Imagine Dragons’ dreadful third album Evolvewas also nominated, after all), but it was still demonstrably the wrong decision.

The saddest part is that even the winners were hurt by these decisions, because these “victories” emphasize and enshrine some of their weakest albums and songs over the better work they’ve done in the past. This has almost been forgotten now that everyone thinks of him as ‘that “Uptown Funk” guy’, but Bruno Mars used to specialize in big, nigh-operatic emotions on his first two albums—one of my perennial complaints about 24k Magic has always been that there is not a single song on it that could conceivably make you cry. As for Ed Sheeran, he too has written much better and deeper songs…indeed, he had another hit from the same album that was vastly more interesting and moving, and that really should have been nominated instead…it was called “Castle on the Hill”. It still wouldn’t have really deserved to beat “Praying”, but had it won, the outcome would have seemed far less insulting.

Even the awards in the other major categories were riddled with wrongheaded decisions. Alessia Cara winning Best New Artist seemed like a positive outcome all round at first, as she was probably the most talented and distinctive of this year’s nominees. But then I applied some thought to the subject, and realized that since Cara had released her first album all the way back in 2015, she really shouldn’t have been eligible at all, at least not in this year’s race.

Granted, sometimes the Grammys do wait a few years until an artist actually makes a significant mainstream impact to nominate them for Best New Artist, even if they actually debuted much earlier. This was the approach taken with such acts as Florence and the Machine and Esperanza Spalding, and I certainly understand the logic behind it, but given that Cara’s first single was a Top Ten hit in 2015, I don’t think that logic really applies in her case.

I suppose we can comfort ourselves with the fact that neither Julia Michaels nor Lil Uzi Vert (a third-rank Trap-Rapper with perhaps the most ridiculous vocal sound in all of Hip-Hop) got the prize, which would have been an exponentially bigger insult. Still, in accordance with the Grammys’ actual rules, the prize probably should have gone to either Khalid or SZA, two up-and-coming R&B luminaries who probably needed the publicity far more at this point anyway.

Meanwhile, Calvin Harris’ Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1 didn’t even get a nomination for best Dance/Electronic album. For some context in why this is such an outrage, you should know that in the early years of the 2010s, Calvin Harris completely reinvented the sound of popular dance music, creating a stylistic template so popular and enduring that it is still the primary basis for the sound of current EDM superstars like the Chainsmokers (the album with which he unveiled this sound, 18 Months, didn’t win a Grammy either, but it at least got nominated). Harris could have easily rested on his laurels, but instead he decided to create a completely new style of dance music again, trading his thundering dance ballads for a sort of glowing Pop-Funk that sounded like nothing ever heard before. I’d argue that kind of achievement deserves to be recognized, but as Ed Sheeran put in on Divide, what do I know?

And what actually won Best Dance/Electronic Album, you may ask? Why, an eight-disc box set of live recordings by Kraftwerk that, besides the gimmick of being in surround sound, are virtually indistinguishable from the studio recordings they’re duplicating. So an album that created a completely new sound from scratch (something the artist in question was doing for the second time, mind you) lost to an epic exercise in recycling existing material wholecloth…not only lost, but wasn’t even offered a chance to compete, as though it should have been obvious to everyone that it was unworthy of winning.

As far as the various Rock categories go, I will give the Grammys credit for having sense enough to give the title track of Leonard Cohen’s last testament You Want It Darker Best Rock Performance, but it really should have swept all the categories. In fact, it almost seems a little condescending to give the song an award for performance but not for its actual songwriting. The acts that actually wound up winning the other categories, the Foo Fighters and The War on Drugs, are both great bands and I say nothing against them, but Cohen’s You Want It Darker was the best Rock album of the 2016-2017 Grammy season as surely as Rainbow was its best Pop album (frankly, it could have done with an Album of the Year nomination, too), and the Grammys, given their well-known love for great artists of the past, should at least have been able to get that right.

In the R&B category, The Weeknd’s Starboy album won the prize for Best Urban Contemporary Album, which might not seem untoward to those only familiar with its radio singles, but will have anyone who has actually heard the entire album cringing in sympathy. Starboy featured four fine songs that have become enduring radio staples (the title track, “False Alarm”, “Party Monster” and “I Feel It Coming”), but the rest of the album is absolutely skin-crawling, resembling a Chris Brown album with better singing. Khalid and SZA were also up for this prize, but it really should have gone to Childish Gambino’s complex magnum opus Awaken, My Love, which they apparently thought was good enough for an Album of the Year nomination, but not good enough to win over The Weeknd’s worst album. And predictably, 24k Magic won against in the Best R&B Album category against far more legit R&B acts like P.J. Morton, Ledisi and Musiq Soulchild.

As far as Country goes, there were two albums in this era that were generally agreed to be neck-and-neck for the title of best. One won top prize at the CMAs last year, and the other won the same prize at the AMCs. The first was Chris Stapleton’s From a Room, Volume One, which did wind up winning the Grammy for Best Country Album. But the other, Miranda Lambert’s epic double album The Weight of These Wings, wasn’t even nominated, which is not only a serious oversight but didn’t exactly help dispel the accusations of sexism, either.

As for the ceremony itself, there were, as I said, a couple of sublime moments that made it worth watching, but the Committee made plenty of bad decisions there, too. For one thing, they made the perennial award show mistake of hiring James Corden to host. I don’t really understand Corden’s ubiquity as a host, to be honest. When Neil Patrick Harris was trotted out to host every awards show on the planet, it made a certain kind of sense…he’s a wonderful performer who actually did a better job with his hosting gigs than almost anyone else they could hire. Corden, on the other hand, is at best a passable comedic talent, and now that he’s been so massively overexposed through replacing Harris as the only awards show host in the world, most of the general public just seems to find him annoying. To make things worse, they had legendary comedian Dave Chappelle on hand, but just kept him hanging around at the edges of the performance. Why not have him serve as the host? Among other things, it would have helped dispel the aforementioned accusations of racism much more effectively than anything they actually tried.

They also devoted a ridiculous amount of time to a couple of pointless comedic sketches. One was devoted to Corden, Sting and Jamaican Reggae musician Shaggy messing around on the subway, and went on for almost twenty minutes. The other was designed as a middle finger to our current President…they actually presented the extremely minor award for Best Spoken Word Album on the actual Broadcast just so they could have various celebrities read from an insulting exposé about the Trump Presidency, climaxing with a cameo from Hillary Clinton. Now, I’m not suggesting our current leader doesn’t deserve the occasional middle finger, but I think Stephen Colbert has that job covered. The Grammys had more important things they should have been doing with their time, as we shall see.

Because of all the time wasted on this subpar sketch comedy, Lorde was not allowed to perform anything from her album, thus shafting the only female nominee they had even seen fit to nominate. The Tom Petty tribute was also cut short, as well as badly performed (I think very highly of Chris Stapleton, but Tom Petty covers are not really his forte), and there was no proper Chuck Berry tribute at all. Disrespecting the dead (especially the recently dead who were also legends of the genre) is one of the worst things an event like this can do, and they only succeeded in getting themselves into even deeper hot water.

I was more forgiving of the time made for Broadway performers (really, who can complain about getting to hear Patti LuPone sing?), but I will say that they made very poor use of Ben Platt. Platt is a wonderful musical actor, but the generic rendition of “Somewhere” that he was given here gives him virtually no opportunity to demonstrate why, probably leading many home viewers to wonder what all the fuss was about. And speaking of Broadway, while I can’t really complain about Dear Evan Hansen winning Best Musical Theater Album, I can think of plenty of shows that should have been nominated and weren’t, especially as they only gave out three nominations this year (odd, given the superlative amount of great Musical Theater during that season, as well as the emphasis they wound up putting on Broadway in the actual ceremony).

Overall, this Grammy ceremony was a failure in almost every conceivable way, and I can’t imagine I’m the only person who spent much of the broadcast openly booing at the screen. I’d like to think that this will serve as a lesson to future awards show that trying to satisfy the political correctness crowd will invariably backfire, but given the example set by the Oscars, I’m aware that next year the committee may just be digging itself deeper by trying to pander to the new accusations of sexism. In any case, if anyone still questions why I think art should remain a strict meritocracy and oppose political correctness encroaching on the arts, I present to you Exhibit A: The 60th Annual Grammy Awards.