Jessica Cabe’s Grammy gripes
What is it that keeps me coming back to the Grammys?
Despite the fact that every year it continues to prove that it’s either irrelevant or devoid of integrity at best, I continue to tune in.
Not only is it riddled with random, often downright bad performances, but it also misses the cultural mark more often than not when choosing its winners (at least in its popular, televised categories).
What do I mean by random performances? Well, the Grammys can’t seem to figure out what they want to be.
Is it a vapid celebration of the most radio-friendly music? Sometimes.
Is it a stuck-in-the-past revelry of your daddy’s rock ‘n’ roll? Sometimes.
Is it a stage for some of the best, most critically acclaimed music of the past year? Occasionally.
If all the performers in various genres, ages and stages of relevance were actually good, maybe the disconnectedness would come off as spicy variety. But they’re not all good.
Justin Bieber strumming three chords on a guitar and singing his painfully boring new pop hit “Love Yourself” made me audibly groan and shove my face in a pillow. Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie was almost embarrassing, and that’s coming from someone who’s a bigger Gaga fan than a Bowie one.
It wouldn’t be such a tragedy if some truly spectacular performances from old and new greats didn’t also take place on that very same stage. Kendrick Lamar’s fiery performance of two “To Pimp a Butterfly” tracks and one never-before-heard song was the brave social statement that needs to be made right now — over and over, and loudly. Bonnie Raitt’s slide guitar honoring B.B. King was the coolest moment of the night, hands down.
It’s the disconnect that really makes me ask what the Grammys even are. And then I look at the winners of these awards, and I scratch my head even more.
Grammy winners are completely unpredictable. Sometimes, the Grammys wants to be edgy and actually honor good artists (the most memorable example of such an upset was when Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs” won Album of the Year in 2011 against pop culture juggernauts Lady Gaga, Eminem and Katy Perry).
But other times, and with no warning, the award goes to someone who isn’t very good, but is pretty popular. For example, Meghan Trainor of “All About that Bass” fame (or infamy) beat out singer-songwriter and critical darling Courtney Barnett in the Best New Artist category this year.
And don’t get me started on the rock categories.
When the Foo Fighters is consistently the only actual rock band in these categories, it starts to get depressing for a lover of rock and roll like myself. Nothing against Alabama Shakes, the big rock winners of the night, but it would have been nice if they’d had some real competition. In fact, they did have competition in the Best Alternative Album category. They were up against Bjork’s “Vulnicura” and Wilco’s “Star Wars,” both of which are phenomenal alternative albums by brilliant artists. But Alabama Shakes won that award, too! What are you doing, Grammys?
Perhaps the biggest offense to great music the Grammys commits is its disregard for hip-hop as a valid artform. Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” swept the rap categories (as it should have), but when it came down to Album of the Year, Taylor Swift’s “1989” won out. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of “1989.” But is it a better album than “To Pimp a Butterfly?” Nope, definitely not.
So here the Grammys are again, turning into a popularity contest rather than a finger on the pulse of great music.
It’s not just about this year, either. The first and last time a rap or hip-hop album won Album of the Year was in 2004 when Outkast beat out Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, the White Stripes and Evanescence.
The fact that Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” wasn’t even nominated for Album of the Year in 2012 should be proof enough that whoever’s in charge doesn’t know how to pick out and honor great hip-hop.
On the bright side (at least, according to this grumpy viewer), this year’s Grammys had the smallest TV audience since 2009, so maybe people are catching on to what a joke it is.
They’re smarter than I am, apparently. I guess I just wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have my annual list of bones to pick.
Former Scene editor Jessica Cabe is a rabid lover of music who takes a certain masochistic pleasure in getting frustrated with the Grammys every year.
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