The Scoreboard is Uproxx Music’s bi-monthly look at who is putting points on the board and who is taking major Ls in the music world over the past couple weeks.
Ariana Grande can do it all, huh? She started her career as a child actress before transitioning into one of the world’s most successful pop stars. After showing her resilience through the horrific Manchester bombing experience, she’s bounced back and made one of the year’s best pop albums with Sweetener. On top of that, she has a pretty darn amazing Celine Dion impression, which she showed off during Carpool Karaoke. On a more somber note, though, the world lost Aretha Franklin, who passed away after a full, productive, and legendary 76 years of life.
In other news, Taylor Swift has the power to control her own destiny after 12 years of waiting, music on Conan will never be the same, supergroups are so in right now, and vaporwave might not be as stupid as you thought.
Win: Morning commutes
Here’s some good news: If Celine Dion ever loses the ability to use her legendary Canadian pipes, Ariana Grande can fill in for her. Grande has busted out her Celine Dion impression multiple times in recent years, and she showcased it again during her Carpool Karaoke segment with James Corden. There may not be a better Celine Dion impression out there: She nails Dion’s distinctive Quebecois accent, which is impressive on its own. Unlike other impersonators, though, Grande has the vocal ability to match Dion’s force, and the fact that she’s able to mimic the legend’s singing as well as she does is truly unprecedented. Perhaps more than her new album Sweetener, this proves that Grande is the most talented pop star around today. (I’m only like 60 percent joking.)
Loss: The Queen Of Soul
There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said about Aretha Franklin in recent days. The legend passed away after years of contending with health problems, and her death is a true loss. She was one of the most talented singers in the history of recorded music, and the mark she made on pop culture is indelible. Her music will live on forever, and because of that, so will she.
Win: Taylor Swift, free agent
When Taylor Swift was 15 in 2006, she signed with Big Machine Records, and that has been her label since then. Her contract, however, expires in November, at which point Swift will have some decisions to make as the biggest free agent in music. Whatever she does, she’ll want control of her master recordings: Big Machine Records currently receives a whopping 80 percent of revenue from Swift’s music. As her records move millions of units, that’s a lot of money Swift is missing out on. She’s reportedly talking to major labels at the moment, and no matter what route she takes, it’s nice to see an artist gain control over their art, which seems like it doesn’t happen enough.
Loss: Music-free Conan
In the near future, Conan will shorten to a 30-minute show, and to accommodate that new length, music performances will no longer be part of the program. O’Brien’s shows have been a TV musical showcase for 25 years, so this is a pretty big loss. It has to sting for O’Brien as well, as he’s a noted music fan. He often plays guitar during the show’s rehearsals. He pulls out his axe during the show whenever possible, whether he’s playing blues with kids, performing with Jack White, or engaging in guitar battle with Jack Black. It’s fair to call O’Brien the biggest music fan in late night, so although devoting five minutes in a 22-minute show to a music performance isn’t exactly reasonable, it’s still a sad loss for both him and his viewing audience.
In some parts of the music space, there’s the presumption that everybody is competing, that it’s not great to have friends because they’ll just learn your vulnerabilities and use them to stab you right in your back. Then there’s the happier part, where musical friends are playing songs together and combining their disparate influences into a new product that makes fans salivate. There are two prime examples of this right now: Boygenius — the supergroup made up of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus — and Big Red Machine — Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner. While we see collaborations in hip-hop all the time, it’s not as common in indie rock, because it’s usually more of a songwriting process and less just getting in the studio for an hour to record a verse real quick. Both of the aforementioned supergroups brings the artists’ best traits under one delightful umbrella, and it’s something I could get used to.
Loss: Elon Musk and Grimes and… Azealia Banks
Everything about Elon Musk and Grimes’ nerd love is so weird. Their relationship started with a geeky joke, and now it may have ended with the two unfollowing each other on social media. Between the start and (potential) end, Azealia Banks got involved. She’s typically not a person you want in a situation that you want to remain free of controversy, in case you’re unaware. She was at Musk’s house to work on a collaboration with Grimes, but when Musk got in the way, she decided to go scorched earth, calling Musk a “trash ass beta male pig” and calling Grimes some things I’d rather not quote here. Banks has apparently apologized, though, and frankly there are too many moving pieces in this situation to make any sense of it. In short: The Musk/Grimes saga continues to be very strange.
Win: “Weird Al,” beloved by all
After decades of entertaining the world with silly parodies of our favorite pop songs, he was bestowed an ultimate honor by receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. If you don’t think the man with the joke songs deserves it, think again: He’s had a Top 40 hit in every decade since the ’80s, and only U2, Michael Jackson, and Madonna have also done that. During his speech, he made a funny reference to Donald Trump, proving that he always has a pulse on the humor of the day: “Please don’t pickaxe my star. I know it’s all the rage these days, but that’s not cool. Unless at some point in the future, I do something unfathomably monstrous and evil in which case, sure, fine, OK, go ahead.”
Loss: Madonna’s Madonna tribute
It can be challenging to properly and appropriately honor a recently deceased musical legend in just a few minutes. That said, Madonna did not do well when given the task at the VMAs. In her tribute, Madonna talked about her early career and how she found her way to success. Briefly, she mentions that she sang a Franklin song in a tribute one time. You know your tribute isn’t going well if you mention yourself more than the intended subject of your speech. She later said it wasn’t intended to be a tribute at all, and that sounds about right.
Win: Rock music
A few weeks ago, Uproxx’s Philip Cosores wrote an interesting piece in praise of non-traditional music venues. Hey Phil, here’s another one for you: Paul Oakenfold is about to get as non-traditional as possible by being the first artist to perform at Stonehenge. Or, I guess you could say that it’s very traditional since the monument is literally prehistoric. Whatever the case, Oakenfold’s outdoor performance will take place during sunset. That breathtaking view combined with the sounds of one of the most storied electronic musicians of the past few decades ought to make for a historic event in a prehistoric place. It’s really going to… rock.
Loss: Hating on vaporwave
Perhaps more than any internet-spawned music genre in existence, vaporwave gets an absolutely unwarranted amount of hate. The criticisms: It’s based almost exclusively on cheesy samples from the ’80s and ’90s, it’s often more mood music than it is actual songs, and all of it is either doused in a thick layer or irony, or it’s completely serious. You can never tell with those hipsters. If you’re a vaporwave fan looking for some validation, though, The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith has your back. He recently waxed poetic about the genre, saying that “it’s the most psychedelic stuff I’ve heard ever since psychedelics.”
There’s a lesson here: It’s easy to make fun of what everybody’s making fun of, but it’s also worth it to appreciate things for what they are and see the good. In this case, it’s the fact that vaporwave is some internet weirdness that can also be just the thing to scratch a certain itch, even if you have to look on the Shitpost Wizard YouTube channel like Nesmith does.