Many of you probably watched the Grammy [music] awards on Sunday night. As I was watching I thought: Wouldn’t it be interesting to analyze the winning songs from a geographic perspective and see which one comes out on top?
Before I get started, let me specify the parameters I used in my geographical test of musical supremacy. You may or may not realize that there are over 100 award categories at the Grammies. If you are like me, you simply turn on the TV and watch the presentations of the twenty or so most well-known awards, such as “Song of the Year” and “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.” To make my task simpler, I focused my analysis on these major categories and did not consider categories such as Best Gospel Song or Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.
Even though I did not rank these lesser-known categories, I encourage
you to do so–especially the “Best Latin Rock, Alternative or Urban
Album” category. The Grupo Fantasma’s album “El Existential” (sponsored
by our very own Nat Geo Music) took home the trophy! It is the first
time a Nat Geo Music release has ever won a Grammy.
Anyway, back to my criteria: I only looked at the WINNING songs in each
category; not all of the nominees. I based my decisions primarily on
lyrics, but also on musical composition, the backgrounds of the
contributing artists, and other aspects of the songs. In other words,
if the song was not entirely in English and half of it was sung by
traditional Scottish natives playing bagpipes, it got high marks for
being geographical. For a list of the songs I reviewed for geographic
qualities, follow this link to the Grammy Awards.
Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance:
Hang On In There, John Legend & The Roots
The first song I chose is not particularly descriptive or specific about
place, but it does put forth one of the key themes in any study of
geography: “And maybe the world ain’t what it could be. But to
understand why is to know reality.” Geography helps to explain why the
world is the way it is, and John Legend and The Roots are helping spread
The song also makes mention of the strong ties people have with
locations, even in the face of adversity:, “Any you can’t drive me from
my home land. If the smog from the cars and so many live we have lost.
Still no matter what I’m gonna hang on.” Due to the song’s modest
geographic components, I gave it third place on my list of Geography
Grammy Winners in 2011.
Best Rap Song:
Empire State Of Mind, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys
A strong second place goes to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, who collaborated to
produce an upbeat rap ditty celebrating New York City. The main theme
throughout the song is place, whether it be Harlem, 56th Stage Street,
“home of that boy Biggie”, or the Statue of Liberty. These descriptions
of locations relating to specific people (LeBron) and events (Labor Day
parade and 9/11) is really quite impressive, and very geographical to
boot. Even though I had heard this song many times previously on the
radio, I did not realize the full content of the song until looking up
the lyrics. So there you have it: “Empire State of Mind” is this year’s
runner-up in my Geography Grammy Winners contest.
Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals:
Imagine, Herbie Hancock, Pink, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No. 1, Jeff Beck & Oumou Sangare
This is it ladies and gentlemen…
…The most geographical song of 2011’s Grammy winners is “Imagine” by
Herbie Hancock, Pink, India Arie, Seal, Konono No. 1, Jeff Beck and
Oumou Sangare. Interestingly enough, this group of musicians composed a
song not only about geography, but also made up of geography, as the
contributing artists hail from several different countries. African
musician Oumou Sangare sings an African chant in the middle of the song,
In addition to diverse singers, the lyrics to “Imagine” convey a message
of multiculturalism–of a world with no countries, no religion, and
people living in peace. “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to
do Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too.” I never would have
heard this song, or realized that the message so closely related to
geography, if I had not taken the time to visit the Grammy website and
search for the lyrics.
I encourage you to find the full lyrics to your favorite song and see
what is hiding behind those melodic musical escapes that you so often
find yourself humming throughout the day. What geographical
characteristics does the song have? Does it tell a story? If so, can
you imagine where the story is set or what the main characters in the
story are like?
Becky for My Wonderful World
Photo courtesy of My Shot Your Shot, Sarah Nonis