A day after preliminary ballots went out to Grammy voters, Brandi Carlile took to social media to say she was “surprised and disappointed” to learn that a single she has in contention this year, “Right on Time,” has been shifted from the American Roots division, where it was submitted, to the best pop performance category.
“While I’m incredibly flattered to be considered ‘pop’ as a 40-year-old crooning lesbian mother,” Carlile wrote, “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit surprised and disappointed to learn the Recording Academy decided to move ‘Right on Time’ out of the American Roots genre and into the pop category.
“Being recognized by the Grammys — in any form — is a great honor,” she continued. “I just want folks to know this wasn’t my decision. Regardless, it doesn’t change who I am or what my Americana community continues to mean to me.”
It’s the third such controversy in the last month over the Recording Academy’s committees recategorizing a record into a different genre than the one it was classified at by the submitting artist or label. Kacey Musgraves expressed her deep displeasure at having her album removed from the country category and placed into pop instead (although her submission for an individual track from the album as best country song stayed intact). That was followed by considerable questioning of why Bo Burnham’s album was moved out of the best comedy category and placed in a soundtrack division instead, although Burnham himself has not publicly commented on the decision.
In her statement, Carlile made the argument that Americana is a community more than it is a style of music, and that she should be allowed to represent it, regardless of how an individual song might come off stylistically.
In response to Carlile’s Instagram post, Margo Price — an artist who shifted to a less rootsy, more straight-ahead rock sound on her most recent album, but who remains firmly identified as Americana in most people’s minds — posted a one-word response: “PREACH.” Agreed Yola, another genre-traversing artist (whose T-shirt Carlile wore on her “Saturday Night Live” appearance this past weekend): “Speak it!!”
Carlile’s statement in full:
“Americana/American Roots music is more than a genre to me. It represents my community, my family, my friends and my beautiful island of misfits. I am also proud that it represents a great number of people actively WORKING to platform marginalized people – LGBTQIA, women, and people of color (who, of course, actually built the genre).
“The importance of staying and working within Americana is greater than just me. There is not a moment where I don’t view my role as something larger. I feel great responsibility in representing marginalized queer people in rural America who are raised on country and roots music but are repeatedly and systematically rejected by the correlating culture. Every rung I can sling my gay sequined boot up on top of gets queer people a little higher on the ladder to being seen as just a bit more human in the great American roots landscape
“I am very proud to be the Americana Association’s Artist of the Year two years in a row and to have debuted at number one on the Billboard Americana chart! It was an honor to have made my album at the same place I made my last one….and with all the same folks! Same producers and band. I cut every song live with acoustic guitars, vintage electrics plugged into old fender amps, beautifully aged pianos and with my fog horn vocals bleeding into every mic.
“While I’m incredibly flattered to be considered “pop” as a 40 year old crooning lesbian mother, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit surprised and disappointed to learn the Recording Academy decided to move “Right On Time” out of the American Roots genre and into the pop category.
“Being recognized by the Grammys — in any form — is a great honor. I just want folks to know this wasn’t my decision. Regardless, it doesn’t change who I am or what my Americana community continues to mean to me.”
Carlile released “Right on Time” as a single and video in July, but her new “In These Silent Days” album didn’t come out till Oct. 1 — exactly one day after this year’s Grammy eligibility period ended — so she and fans will have to wait another year to see whether the full album ends up in American roots, pop or even rock, as it traverses a number of different styles.
In an interview with Variety when “Right on Time” came out, Carlile acknowledged an image change for the video, referring to “this crazy Gemini contradiction, where the part of me that was brought of age by Freddie Mercury and Elton John and Bowie is always at odds with the part of me that rides an Excavator and goes fishing and grows tomatoes. But they really do both exist, and it doesn’t make any sense for them to never communicate.” Of the “In These Silent Days” album, she said that “many things exist within it: big, operatic moments, drama, glamorousness — but also crackly-voiced, rustic stuff, too. It can get into Seattle grunge territory, and go into Roy Orbison and Freddie (Mercury), and it just feels like a culmination of a lot of the things that make me who I am.”
But Carlile has always identified most with Americana as her home base, and has spoken with Variety about how important the Americana Music Awards are to her, describing that show as a place where “there sat a room full of hard-knock misfits that weren’t being included in the big room for one reason or another,” including not just roots musicians but “people of color, queer people, marginalized people, for whatever reason.”
At the Grammys in 2019, where she won in the American roots category for both her then-latest album and her song “The Joke,” she took to the stage and proudly said, “Americana music is the island of the misfit toys. I am such a misfit.”