What Makes These Grammy-Nominated Tracks Tick?
One song can heighten our current mood or take us to a whole new realm of feeling. Wallow in self-pity on the bedroom floor? Deepen your blues a little blues. Pull yourself out of your misery to start a night on the town? Raise top 40 pop hits. Dance your troubles away? Loop trippy EDM tracks until dawn.
“Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat ft. SZA (Song of the Year)
Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” begins with a guitar riff that Egermann says immediately sets the listener in the mood, creating a “calm atmosphere”. “It fires up our ability to resonate with these very basic expressions in music,” he says of the repetitive riff that runs throughout the song. “As you empathize [artist]. He takes you there.”
The song emulates the catchy pop chorus of Olivia Newton-John’s other Grammy-nominated hit “Physical” but modernizes it with punchy rap verses. “What’s interesting about this piece is that the rap is a little more aggressive and it kind of creates a little contrast and a little tension,” Egermann says. “It’s an interesting stylistic mix.”
“Genesis” Deftones (Best Metal Performance)
“Genesis” by Deftones starts with slow synths that move into heavier and darker rock with screaming vocals. “These [elements] that are associated with the expression of negative emotions,” says Egermann. “If you hear someone on the street making sounds that are really rough, dissonant, dark, and loud, you might think that he is in pain or that he [screaming] in anger.”
When it comes to metal music like Genesis, one listener’s anguish is another listener’s therapy. “We have the ability to take negative things and turn them into positive ones, interpreting it as art,” says Egermann. “It is a process of distancing or dissociation. We fall back and then we can look at it [emotion] from the outside, rather than a direct sensation… There is the idea of catharsis when you experience a kind of tragedy. [through the music] and it helps you get over your own tragedy, in a way.”
“All Eyes on Me” by Bo Burnham (Best Song Written for Visual Media)
Released as part of Beau Burnham’s Inside comedy special, All Eyes on Me follows the comedian’s standard formula: social commentary and self-reflection through contrived and even corny pop elements. The song harnesses the power of Autotune, repetitive hooks, and bands from a hip-hop-tinged 2000 pop audience, slowed down and looped almost to the point of mesmerism.
“It’s very melodic, it’s very repetitive, it creates something like an earworm,” says Egermann. “If there are any musical traits that people will remember best, they are included here. The structure is not too complex, but not too simple – just right, something in between. You can sing along because it’s a well-articulated melody. It draws you in.”
“Family Ties” by Baby Kim ft. Kendrick Lamar (Best Rap Performance)
Baby Kim’s “Family Ties” begins with a visceral beat that is a bit like a mashup of the opening theme about wrestling and a wolf howling at the moon. “It stimulates a bodily, direct response,” says Egermann. “There is such a low sub-base that directly resonates in us… not even on an abstract level; it’s on the bodily level. If you stand in front of the speakers, your body [literally] resonates with it. So it gets you right away.”
Rap is built on repetitive patterns of rhyme and rhythm, but it is the unpredictability of the flow that creates a kind of “flow state” in the listener. “On a syntactical level, it’s very difficult,” Egermann says of Family Ties. “Through rhyme and repetition, you create expectations that are then broken from time to time. It creates tension and makes things aesthetically interesting.”
“MOVEMENT 11′” by John Baptiste (Best Contemporary Classical Composition)
John Baptiste is the king of the Grammys this year with 11 nominations spanning R&B, a wide range of American Roots genres, the jazz soundtrack to Pixar’s Soul movie, and more. His song “MOVEMENT 11′” also has jazz roots, despite being classified as a modern classical composition.
“This is a very jazzy piano. [performance], and this is also largely in line with our expectations,” says Egermann. “During a jazz performance, you will have an original motive that will be presented and then it will be repeated, but it will vary, and work on it. Options will confirm your expectations and violate your expectations.”
A clichéd pop song or romantic comedy may console us with its predictability, but a jazz piece zigzags us like a thriller. “Playing with expectations can create tension, surprise, relief, satisfaction, [and] expectations,” says Egermann.