Grammys and Grammy Watching

450px-GrammySo, 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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Awards shows are solipsistic and self-congratulatory parties thrown by rich people for other rich people. I think that says enough.
  4. 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….

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Albums of (My!) Year

dirty-three-toward-the-low-sun-review-e1329085762752(My brother and I without really planning it authored three year-in-review posts. We apologize for piling on with the rest of the (un)-civilized world.)

I have mentioned earlier my distrust for lists and the way that they distort issues of judgment (something that on its own has issues). See, for instance, the recent “50 Best Rap Songs” offered up by Rolling Stone.  (It unfairly emphasizes older and ‘original’ rappers—for the most part not on aesthetic grounds I suspect, but rather because the polled ‘experts’ both suffer from age-laden nostalgia and from the critic-typical desire to seem authoritative by tracing things back to their origins.)

The act of publishing such nonsense is of course intentionally provocative: it invites dispute, debate and engagement with the topic. And, even such a purposeful misrepresentation of the ‘quality’ relations among various artists or examples of the artists can have the salutary effect of forcing critics and their audiences to develop ad hoc if not more evolved standards for making such decisions.

At the end, however, listing is arbitrary at some fundamental level. But, of course, arbitrariness can be quite fulfilling on its own. So, I am ending the year with a list that is doubly arbitrary. Here is a list, from worst to best, of the albums I bought in 2012. The album did not have to be issued in 2012. Nope, this is purely about whatever I acquired and how I feel about it.

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New Album Review: Fiona Apple “The Idler Wheel…”

In the late 1990s a young female artist burst onto the aging and stale alt-rock scene. She had a chesty-jazz inspired voice (contrasting with the heady and weaker voices of the Joan Osbornes, Alanis Morrisettes and Jewels of the world). She was young and pretty. Her music was bold and surprising. And she may have been a little crazy.

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