So, the Grammys are coming up soon and they promise to offer the typical menu of pageantry, performers, promotion and implicit prior authorization of music purchases. (Like that? Cynicism and alliteration at once?)
I mentioned not liking awards shows earlier this week, but I didn’t really state my objections rather clearly. For sake of clarity, then, here are my issues (and, yes, my brother, I am saying ‘issues’ the way our father would).
- The Grammys are about making money: The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (which gives out the award) was created by Recording executives. The process of nomination and the doling out of awards is really just one orgy of promotion for the recordings peddled by the sponsoring companies.
- The awards in every category are really about selling the most or being the best-known: It is obvious that to win an award, people need to know about you, but it isn’t true that just because something is well-known it is necessarily good or that it is better than something that isn’t as well-known. Further, just because a larger number of people buy something doesn’t mean that it is aesthetically superior. If anything, ‘products’ in wide circulation are often rather non-descript and mediocre.
- Awards shows are solipsistic and self-congratulatory parties thrown by rich people for other rich people. I think that says enough.
- The Grammys are historically bad at gauging important contributions to music: Pearl Jam won a grammy in 1996 for “Hard Rock Performance”, four years after Jeremy. Grammy voters are older and part of the record industry or institutionalized enough that they are universally conservative. Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991; Nirvana) is often cited as one of the most important albums of the 1990s. The year it was eligible for a Grammy The album of the year was Unforgettable …With Love (Natalie Cole). The Alternative album of the year was Out of Time (R.E.M). The next year? Album of the Year was Eric Clapton’s Unplugged. Alternative Album? Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. (Nine Inch Nails and Red Hot Chili Peppers got some love in the Rock Category but SIR MIX -A-LOT won the best Rap Solo Performance Grammy!).
The Academy authorized THIS? Perhaps I should rethink my criticisms….
I know, I know. This list makes me sound like a terrible curmudgeon. It doesn’t really leave any room for the fact that watching the Grammys can be fun (where else would you find a range of so many artists) or that award shows in general interest us because (a) if we like any of the nominees we almost naturally root for them and (b) the process of selection and prize-winning enjoins us to be our own critics and agree with or pan the choices that are made.
In a way, award shows are also the earliest type of reality TV. As with Survivor or American Idol we develop a rooting interest and a relationship with the ‘contestants’; we also get to witness emotion and (sometimes) humanity from performers most of us have no connection with at all. The experience can be galvanizing (making us feel our own taste more strongly), transforming (making us see artists in new ways, for better or worse) and, simply, entertaining.
So, my brother, I hate awards shows but I like them too. I mock the categories, denigrate the selection process, and insist that way too much good music (non-mainstream especially) is ignored. Yet, I still check the scorecard every year. Professormortis, do you do the same kind of thing with the Oscars?
Anyway, we wrote about several artists over the past year. Because we talked about them, we will be rooting for them even if we know nothing about the other artists. Following the publicly available lists, here are some of the bands we’ll be thinking about Sunday night (or, most likely, Monday morning. The Walking Dead returns Sunday night:
Record of the Year: I still don’t understand why this isn’t just called “Single of the Year”. But, we wrote about Gotye and Fun (both of whom are nominated to this category. Since my wife loves this song and my daughter (at two-and-a-half) says she likes it every time she hears it, Gotye gets our support (because it matters so much). Gotye also gets the nod for “Best Pop Duo performance”.
Album of the Year: I am partial to Mumford & Sons’ Babel but I think my brother might be going for The Black Keys (but they can have their “Best Rock Album” award). But why are Mumford & Sons nominated for best “Americana Album”? give that to the Lumineers. At least they’re American.
Song of the Year: A lot of these nominations are really bad. That “Stronger” song by Kelly Clarkson gives me the gives. I am rooting for ‘We Are Young’ only because I don’t care about the others. That’s a lie. I am rooting for Fun because of my antipathy for the others.
Best New Artist: I actually think the nominees are decent here. Alabama Shakes can legitimately rock (even if they belong in 1973), but they aren’t that new (They deserve the “Best Rock Performance” award). The Lumineers write some great songs and we both like the band, but I don’t think that they have as much creativity as Fun. Any one of these bands winning will be find for me.
Best Alternative Music Album: This category is strange. Gotye vs. Fiona Apple, vs Tom Waits and Bjork? The voters are fucked. I’m going with Apple because I reviewed the album and she might always go crazy on stage, but that Tom Waits album is good and Bjork is always a hoot.
Best Rap Performance: I love the song “Ni**as in Paris” by Jay-Z and Kanye West. As long as the winner isn’t Drake, I will be content.
Best Blues Album: Here’s the one I really care about. Heritage Blues Orchestra really earned this one. If they don’t get it, I won’t watch the Grammys again next year.