Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Grammy whammy

We actually watched the Grammy telecast Sunday night. Obviously it's not on par with the Super Bowl, or even the Oscars, in regard to the viewership, and unlike those events, for us it is far from required viewing; there's been plenty of years when I've not watched a single minute of the show. And this year it was probably in part because Neil Patrick Harris was involved (he introduced Katy Perry in one of the show's few funny parts).

As someone with thousands of songs in the library it's safe to consider me one who likes music. You might expect this would elicit in me more interest in the show, but unlike the Super Bowl (where there's an actual sporting event taking place) or the Academy Awards (where I will have seen at least some of the nominated movies), the Grammys tend to feature artists in which I have little interest.

Going back to my adolescence my tastes tended to run contrary to what was on the Top 40. It's not that I was on some kind of cutting edge; I merely was out of step in general, and music followed.

So growing up for me the Grammys were always associated with that popular music of which I wasn't really a fan. Even when categories were introduced for the likes of outsider genres like alternative rock or heavy metal, those who won still suggested the Grammy voters knew little of them (Jethro Tull as metal anyone?).

Obviously the situation with music has changed since the mainstream music scene has grown to encompass those who were on the outside in the old days, and so the nominees came to include more artists with whom I had some specific familiarity, although still few where the albums up for little gold gramophones were also found in my CD collection.

It's not like my favorite artists were getting nominated, nor were they the sort who cared about getting nominated. There was no issue there.

Granted, the telecast is now to the point where so few actual awards are being shown given out that the telecast can barely be considered an "awards" show; it's basically a three hour showcase for what the music industry hopes will inspire those who haven't purchased the albums will go out and do so.

Anyway, this year a nominee for the apparently coveted "album of the year" was one I actually had, and generally liked: Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. It got a fair amount of notice last year because it debuted at #1 on the charts (thanks probably to aggressively low pricing on Amazon for downloading), so it wasn't exactly a shock that it could get into the running. Nobody in the prognostications I saw (namely a couple pages in EW) had that as anything but a longshot, but hey, that it was even in the category was either a victory or a hideous loss (depending on one's perspective about how "indie" rock is mentioned in the same breath as the big budget major label stable of artists makes one feel) in the first place.

And then when Barbara Streisand announced that as the winner, it may have announced the moment when it has gone too far. For both sides.

Of course, this notion of "sides" really only exists in the minds of those who would associate a band like Arcade Fire with something that is utterly different than a band like Lady Gaga; for someone who is a fan of, say, jazz or classical, both are phenomenally popular (relative to the artists in the genre they prefer) and based on a similar meter and structure. Only those who are versed in the nuances of "indie rock" and, perhaps more important, who remember the days when the only chance a band had of getting into contention for a Grammy would be to have the wherewithal of a major record label behind them, would be in a position to consider this win to be a noteworthy event that sounds some kind of death knell for the quasi-underground. Only by overlooking the subtle inroads that the music from artists on smaller labels had made in the marketplace (thanks, in no small part, to the internet) over the past decade could one really be shocked by this.

It's entirely likely that Arcade Fire won because those who champion their particular take on popular music were very supportive, and other artists up for the big award split the vote amongst their respective camps.

It's mostly that those who fancy they can predict the tastes of some 12,000 members were so dismissive that it's an upset.


Someday our children will look at all of this shock over a band on what is considered an "independent" record label having garnered the majority of votes for Grammy's highest honor and ask "What was an 'independent record label'?" and wonder why that was ever a big deal in determining which artist produced the best work for the year.

Then they'll ask follow-up questions regarding what a "record label" was at all, and perhaps even what an "album" was; for the latter they may discern that whatever the Grammys are calling their big prize ("Best Download Package"?) at that point is what used to hold that term.

However, quaint will be the notion that only having a massive corporate entity bankrolling the venture could have possibly been requisite for being atop the charts, much less to take home the prizes at the Grammys—which will still be around, remarkably, even without the industry being what it once was; somebody must continue to hand out awards once a year to those few left around who give a crap about that.


  1. You know, it's because of viewers like you that they keep televising the Grammys. If everyone turned their backs at once and ignored them, maybe they'd go away. ;-)

  2. Translation: Marvin was rooting for Katy Perry.

    Oh, come now, Marv. The Grammys won't go away no matter how few people watch them; the telecast will merely move to VH1. Then to being a podcast.


So, what do you think?