Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett put out a dynamite album this year called Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit that tackles a lot of common concerns young people have about their surroundings. There's a song called "Debbie Downer" (yeah), one called "An Illustration Of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York)" (definitely) and my personal favorite title, "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party" (absolutely).
The album's racked up a lot of praise for Courtney's insightful, biting songwriting, so it made sense when she snagged a Grammy nomination earlier this month for Best New Artist. And she's stoked about the nom, telling Billboard, "It seemed pretty farfetched to me. So it was pretty exciting when it happened."
Pop musicians tend to have a pat-on-the-back approach when talking about other artists, so it would've made sense for Courtney to go that route when asked about her thoughts on her fellow nominees James Bay, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly and Meghan Trainor. Instead, she answered directly and matter-of-factly.
"Yeah, I don't know who they are," she said in a recent interview. "I listen to music when my friends recommend it to me, I don't often just go out and buy a record because it was in a magazine or it was on a list or something. So, yeah, I probably won't [listen to them]. I feel like there's so much music in the world that I haven't listened to yet that I want to listen to."
Out of context, this could very easily be interpreted as shade, with Courtney seemingly projecting an air of superiority over four very mainstream newcomers. But I don't take it as shade at all.
In the same interview, she's asked to name who she'd nominate for Best New Artist -- and she can't really come up with an answer.
"I don't even know what new artist means," she said. "We did some shows with Sharon Van Etten last year, and I love her, and Benjamin Booker as well, last year. But I don't know, there's so many. I've been listening to Sleater-Kinney and, like, it's new to me but they're obviously not a new band."
And that captures a very real moment in talking to musicians about where they see themselves versus where we actually see them (or where they really are). You know when artists get nominated for or win a ton of awards and they feign surprise, saying they're totally blown away and surprised when it was pretty clear all along they were poised for victory? That gets old, man.
My friend sent Courtney an email in 2013 after he first heard "Avant Gardener" and told her to come play in Rochester, where we grew up. She sent him back an email almost right away and said thanks, and that she'd try. That's how I'll always see Courtney -- that, and as an amazing songwriter and performer.
"I talk to a lot of people who like the music and come to the shows and they're cool and we swap stories and they tell me why they connected with the songs," she said in the same interview, "and I love hearing that sh-t. It's cool."