Brandi Carlile and the 2019 Grammy Awards
Brandi Carlile might be one of the most naturally gifted singer/songwriters to come around in a long time. That is not to say that she is a new artist; 2018’s By the Way, I Forgive You is her sixth studio album. Her breakthrough came in 2007 with the release of The Story and she has steadily been creating new music since then.
Carlile received more nominations than any other woman at the 2019 Grammy Awards and if I had my way, she would have won all of them. That takes nothing away from Donald Glover or Kacey Musgraves, the only artists to beat her at the ceremony; it’s a matter of preference.
By the Way, I Forgive You is largely defined by the lead off single “The Joke.” “The Joke” is one of those songs destined to be an anthem. It was introduced to me by a few different people who all had incredibly different readings of the song. One said it was a scathing takedown of Donald Trump. Another said it was a song for survivors. Still another said it was a breakup song. The genius of Brandi Carlile’s songwriting is convincing everyone who listens that her songs are personal and significant to them.
For me, “The Joke” started me on a very long healing process that resulted in a lot of changes last year. Sketchy Details went on a hiatus because of a teaching job that soured far quicker than it should have. I’m still trying to figure out how to reclaim my voice and my drive in writing when I was told how insignificant and inappropriate my work as a media critic was to teaching…new media and filmmaking. I know, it makes no sense, but it was just another layer to a long narrative with this school of telling me how terrible I was at what I do.
They had previously demanded changes to my speech (my lisp and higher voice were not professional), my clothing (teachers should dress plainly, not in bright colors or patterns when teaching…the arts), my hair (too edgy), my glasses (too colorful), my teaching style (too much fun), and pretty much everything else about me. I’d meet their goals and the goal posts would move. The administration in that school was the same administration I dealt with as a student there and because of actions taken against me by other students, I was never treated as a real person. I was a blemish on their record and a constant reminder of their failures. Honestly, my one regret in life at this point is not going to the police when what happened to me happened; I didn’t because I was threatened with suspension because people started making fun of my abuser for abusing me and for the school that was as bad as what he did to me that forever changed my life.
So around the time I was told to take down all my social media because…wizards?, “The Joke” came out. I cried when I heard it. I felt heard. I felt seen. I felt like someone wrote a song just for me, knowing full well that’s not possible. When the school once again did what it did best (dangle opportunities in front of me if I met all their standards, then rip them away and give a brand new excuse for why I wasn’t a fit), the school was met with a surprise. Instead of responding in anger, or sadness, or complicit silence, I told them I would no longer work for them in any capacity. I did a lot of other jobs for the school related to their performing arts programs and they were going to need to hire a lot of people to replace me in those positions; they still haven’t filled them all six months into the school year. I regret nothing. They created the situation and I could no longer be used by them with no chance of advancement in my career.
“The Joke” is one of those media artifacts that guided me in the moment. There were quite a few unexpected pieces of media last year that really helped me bring my life back into focus (for better or worse): Tully, Revenge, The Ritual, among many others. The long and the short of it is seeing myself, my mindset, things that have happened to me, and things that reminded me of my past so clearly focused in a film or show or song helped me find the strength in myself to actually get help. “The Joke,” in particular, gave me just a little more perspective on some of the common techniques of abusers to keep their victims down in a place where they could be used and manipulated. This, all set to a beautiful melody and intense vocal performance by Carlile, made a huge difference.
Brandi Carlile took home three of her six nominations last night. She won two categories (American Roots Song and Performance) for “The Joke” and one category (Best Americana Album) for By the Way, I Forgive You.
She also performed “The Joke” near the end of the night, delivering a live performance that sounded exactly like the recording. That’s impressive. Uproxx has the full performance here.
Of the big prizes, Kacey Musgraves took home Album of the Year for Golden Hour. Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, took home Song and Record of the Year for “This is America.” Dua Lipa took home Best New Artist. This was the first year the General categories had eight nominees each, allowing room to recognize a wide array of artists in the top categories such as Janelle Monae, Post Malone, Cardi B, and Zedd. The full results are available at the Grammy webpage.