In many ways, the Grammys are a self-aggrandizing echo chamber for music's 1%. It's largely a chance for musicians to squeeze a little more life out of songs that left the radio months ago, and throw a few targeted ad spots to soak up pop fanbases' attention. However, there are moments in which the awards do a true service to the artists nominated. Most of those come in the pre-show ceremony.
That's where most of the smaller awards are given out, including most of the genre-specific and technical prizes. They shine a light on artists who otherwise don't usually get a chance to stand in the spotlight, and help audiences come to know the minds that helped craft their favorite songs. One of the most telling awards of the night is always producer of the year. Sunday, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin took home that honor. A scroll through his production credits shows how profound of an influence he's had on 2015 and 2016's pop.
His biggest credit of last year is for producing and helping write Adele's "Hello," which took home record and song of the year. But in the past two years he's produced, composed and played on records by Sia, including her No. 1 hit "Cheap Thrills," Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, Tegan and Sara, Kelly Clarkson and Ellie Goulding. Without Kurstin the sound of 2015 and 2016's blockbuster pop would undoubtedly have a very different character.
Kurstin's fingerprints are all over the arguably three biggest straight pop releases of the past two years, Sia's This Is Acting, Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion and Adele's 25. In previous years he's also contributed production to Taylor Swift's 1989, Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence, Santigold's Master of My Make-Believe and Lily Allen's Sheezus.
Sunday night, he did get a chance to take the big stage on two occasions during the televised broadcast, though the first time, during Adele's song of the year win, he was cut off before getting a chance to speak, prompting boos throughout the room.
"Everyone, this is Greg Kurstin," Adele said, introducing him. "I'd like to thank Greg, because he kept coming to England for me to work with me ... I had a very short attention span. He would come to me England so I didn't have to leave my son, and yet you would leave your son and daughter. Thank you with your patience with me and helping to create my favorite song I've ever done."
Outside of his pop songwriting and production, Kurstin has also built out a substantial career on the strength of his own work as half of the indie pop group the Bird and the Bee. Their latest album Recreational Love dropped in 2015 to a quiet but warm reception from publications like Pop Matters and Under the Radar Mag.
"We just have fun making music and incorporating some great jazz stuff into pop," Kurstin said, speaking about his passion project the Bird and the Bee in a 2016 interview with Ascap. "I feel complete freedom working on music with [co-lead] Inara because we’re doing it just for ourselves. We want as many people to hear the music as we possibly can, but I feel we're very much on the same page."
Getting people to hear his music though isn't really a problem at this point — most listening just don't know it's his. For a man who admitted to Billboard that "being in front of the cameras is not my favorite thing to do," that may the best possible arrangement. Fans looking to find more music like the albums discussed above need only to trace the hidden threads back to Kurstin's discography. Because there are a lot more pop jewels where his 2016 work came from.
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