I realize the dilemma inherent in my attempting to criticize an awards show simply because my track record finds me bitching about just about every awards show ever. How could I possibly deliver a compelling case when my history reveals a veiny and ample hard-on towards awards shows in general? That’s the rhetorical hole I find myself in as I begin to discuss this year’s Grammy awards and the Grammys in general. In case you lose track of all of these silly awards shows and forget which rewards what — the Grammy Awards pertain to music. Try this memory association trick:
“The Grammy Awards reward music that my Grammy listens to.”
“You go on and give that award to that nice Taylor Swift boy or SO HELP ME…!”
The Grammys have always struck me as shittier than every other awards show. I think it’s because they are completely detached from modern ideas of relevance and the criticism of its particular medium. Look at the Oscars, as a means of comparison. Now, I can almost always find something to piss and moan about with the Oscars. Either the picks are too milquetoast or afraid to reward “true artistry in cinema” or flat out infuriating in how unequivocally wrong they are(Chicago). At the end of the day, the Oscars seem to hold themselves to some sort of standard in terms of quality. Look at any of the Best Picture nominees from any of the past few years. Are there some bland, shitty choices in there? Sure. Does a small but exceptionally made indie film(this year, Winter’s Bone) stand a chance against the polished studio juggernauts? Not quite. But there is some correlation amongst the choices because they’re almost all universally lauded by the critical community. That is, the authority charged with the task of gauging the quality of films. Same goes for the Emmy’s. Critical darlings like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The West Wing, The Sopranos typically cleaned house with the Emmy’s, in nominations at least, if not flat out wins. I won’t get into how those butt nuts somehow completely dropped the ball on The Wire, effectively ignoring it for five brilliant seasons. But hey, a show with 70% Black people probably isn’t worth your precious award, right? You fucking white-bread hacks.
“You hit up http://www.emmys.tv/contact and tell ’em Omar comin’ for ’em, you feel me?”
Focus, Erik. Back on target.
So anyway, the disconnect between the critical community and the Grammy nominations seems exceptionally large, at least when compared to the Oscars or the Emmy’s. Here are this year’s Grammy nominations for Best Album:
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
A fine album and a worthy nomination, by this writer’s estimation. But so this rant avoids becoming a tired “Their choices don’t validate my own personal tastes! Wah wah!” bitch-fest, I need to look at this thing in wider context with some sort of external criteria. I almost wish there was a one-stop resource for critical reviews of music…
Oh, wait… http://www.metacritic.com/albums
So, using trusty Metacritic(by no means an end-all be-all resource, but a good quick reference to get a decent idea of the critical reaction of modern album releases), we learn that The Suburbs lands a Metascore of 87. Broken down further we see that it received 40 positive reviews, 3 mixed reviews, and no negative reviews whatsoever. Good work, Grammys-people. No complaints there.
Eminem – Recovery
I mean, not a bad album. It spawned some big singles. It represents something of a return to form for Eminem in at least skill, if not relevance or importance. He’s not really saying much of anything interesting here. As much as I liked this album aesthetically, there’s something irksome about Eminem nowadays. He needs a persona makeover or something. He’s pushing 40, is filthy rich, and still has this “punk ass kid with problems” posture to him. Bleh. Anyway, formally, it’s a pretty solid, well-produced rap album. Critically, however, it got a 67 from Metacritic(16 positive, 8 mixed, 4 negative). That’s a 20 point drop all within a category that the Grammys’ authority suggests represents the apex of music from 2010.
Lady Antebellum – Need You Now
This album is helpful as a litmus test of sorts. If a girl puts this on a jukebox at a bar, it’s a quicker way of knowing that me and her would never work out. And this is not Country, for fuck’s sake.
Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster
As much as I find her music exceedingly repetitive and bland(though exceptionally well-produced) and as much as I despise the legions of cackling fans that abuse words like “brilliant” and “genius” when describing her music with the same frenetic vigor that priests typically reserve for children’s buttholes, the critics seem to like her. Could I find 50 albums from the year that I found more exciting or important? Easily. But this isn’t about validating my own tastes. And so I thrust my anger-engorged member into something heavy and immovable until it returns to its flaccid state….
Two Gigantic Tits Katy Perry – Teenage Dream
I know. You think I’m fucking with you. That’s the same reaction I had when I read this year’s list of nominees. Critical rundown: 4 positive reviews, 14 mixed reviews, 2 negative reviews. And the positive reviews were BARELY positive. Here’s a quote from one of the positive reviews:
“Beneath the fruity outfits and fart jokes, Perry is clearly serious about the business of hit songcraft; that doesn’t make Dream nearly cohesive as an album, but it does provide, intermittently, exactly the kind of high-fructose rush she’s aiming for.”(Entertainment Weekly)
This is the best our esteemed panel of judges could do. Either they just picked an album cover that gave them their first semi-boner in a decade or they asked their teenaged daughters what daddy should nominate to represent the best in 2010’s music.
Here are some more albums from years passed that our beloved panel deemed among the best of music:
Taylor Swift – Fearless
Black Eyed Peas – The E.N.D.
Beyonce – I Am Sasha Pierce
Vince Gill – These Days
Ne-Yo – Year of the Gentleman
Gwen Stefani – Love. Angel. Music. Baby
Mariah Carey – The Emancipation of Mimi
Evanescence – Fallen
Nelly – Nellyville
It’s true, this year is probably the most uniformly pathetic selection in some time, but look yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammy_Award_for_Album_of_the_Year.
There’s a recurring tendency to reward the safe, big label muscle and almost a complete aversion to left of center artists. And more often than you’d think, there’s a complete acceptance of vapid trash.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, easily the most critically lauded, mainstream or otherwise(39 positive, 2 mixed, 0 negative), managed to get almost entirely ignored. It did get a solo nod for “Power”, but that’s all. No recognition whatsoever for the album, either for Album of the Year or Rap Album. For this to not even get a nomination, it wreaks of backdoor politics. Well, it was probably less sinister than that, admittedly. It was probably more like “Hey, isn’t that the mean black man who was mean to that sweet white boy last year!? To hell with him! This B.o.B. fella seems to like white people! In he goes!”. As a fan of Kanye and a huge fan of his latest album, I’m not sure if I want him to get a microphone in his hands and start ranting on how awful the awards are(this would certainly bring some immediate satisfaction) or if he should just keep quiet and let the irrelevance of the awards speak for itself. I’d probably be happier for him in the long run if he managed that. He knows his album deserves a nomination, at the least, and I’m pretty sure most of the people attending the Grammys are aware of that. Does he put that on blast or try to be the “bigger man”? Wait, was he even invited?
Rounding out the Rap Album category, we have a mediocre Jay-Z release with maybe 4 or 5 solid songs on it, a good Roots album that we’ll all forget by the time their next one comes, the skillful but empty Eminem release, and Drake’s debut—which I can’t cry too much about. I mean, if the nominations they actually ended up rolling with were just so undeniably good; that the rap category was that overflowing with awesome, I might find it in myself to forgive the snubbing of Kanye. The choices here are so weak it’s hard to see anything but bias or ignorance going into the decision making.
Here’s some literature I was able to find on the voting process:
First-round ballots are sent to voting members in good dues standing. To help ensure the quality of the voting, members are directed to vote only in their fields of expertise; they may nominate in the four general categories (Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist) and in no more than nine (9) out of the 29 fields. Ballots are tabulated by the independent accounting firm of Deloitte.
While we’re at it, Soy Bomb > Mumford & Sons by damn sight.
Final-round ballots are sent to voting members in good dues standing. The finalists determined by the special nominating committees are also included in this ballot. In this final round, Recording Academy members may vote in the four general categories and in no more than eight (8) of the 29 fields. Ballots again are tabulated by the independent accounting firm of Deloitte.
Results of members’ voting are not known until the GRAMMY Awards presentation ceremony when names of the winners are delivered by Deloitte in sealed envelopes. GRAMMY Award winners are revealed during the GRAMMY Awards telecast.
That’s about what I expected to find. Something cryptic, vague, and completely unhelpful. Am I suggesting that critical consensus should dictate the awards? Not at all. I’d just like to see some sort of accountability. Pull the curtain back, is all. Let me, genuine fan of music, into your process. Do you really have a bunch of soccer moms and old men filling in boxes at random? Is their frame of reference completely shaped by corporate radio? If so, is it really fair that they represent an authority here? Do these people actually have a critically sound reasoning for why Katy Perry belongs anywhere fucking near something that’s meant to represent the best in a particular medium? I’d love to read it. Not so I can snark and mock it, but if there’s some sort of critical school of thought that lies IN CONTRAST to traditional criticism, well then that needs to have some light shed on it. Maybe I’ve been listening to and judging Katy Perry in the wrong context. Maybe she’s a post-post-modern subversion of teen pop archetypes and her lyrics are a parody of this or that gender-whatever. If someone has that point of view, they need to be heard so a conversation can be had and then there’s a dialogue and not some one-sided, cryptic, Kubrickian process with masks and naked people who all champion traditionally shitty music. But is that really likely? I feel like if these people were interest in a dialogue; in NOT coming across as some arbitrary authority, they’d open up their process. They’d defend their selections in public, while enticing us to kiss their black balls if we don’t like it. But there’s none of that.
My favorite part about the Grammys is when some artist we thought retired 20 years ago wins for Best Album or something. Everyone who actually pays attention to music is like “lol, wut? He’s still around?”. The joke’s on us, really. We fancy ourselves the anti-“experts”, right? My instinct is to write it off as a bunch of crotchety, out of touch white men blindly voting for an artist whose time of relevance reminds them of a better time for themselves. On a human level, it’s hard to be mad at that. But pragmatically, it’s pretty pathetic. It’s simply one monolithic institution swinging its authority dick around in the faces of those who most certainly have to put up with it. That authority is not concerned with true artistry in a medium or even discussing what “artistry” means. It’s concerned with whatever their intellectually non-curious biases tell them to be concerned with. Either it’s a reflexive reaction against someone they “just don’t like”(Kanye), an impulse to reward true mediocrity(See: Almost everything), or a need to force relevance onto an artist whose time has passed—because to not do so would be a quiet admission that maybe their own time has passed.