Just when we thought the national referendum on music had been held as a result of Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl, along came the 55th Grammy Awards.
It was a chance for the younger generation to do what younger people have done for 54 previous years — complain that their favorite performers didn’t win, or weren’t even nominated.
And it was a chance for the older generation to do what every older generation does — complain about the younger generation and its lack of taste, discernment and discretion.
“I don’t like this new music.” “I have no idea who any of these people are.”
These two thoughts — uttered with some regularity and in the same breath by those critical of what they saw at Sunday’s Grammys — are not as related as those uttering them would like to think.
If you “don’t like this new music,” that’s one thing. A neutral observer might suggest that what you don’t like is what you’re hearing of new music. There is so much new music being made, and so much available, that no one can keep track of it all, not you, not me, not the most fervent music fan and not the most passionate and most conscientious Grammy voter. There’s no doubt that there’s something in “new” music that would appeal to everyone who likes music at all. If the listener doesn’t have the time, energy or finances to track it down, that’s certainly understandable, but hardly the fault of the Grammys or the people who have risen to the tops of music scenes.
As far as not knowing the performers, does that matter? Isn’t there the possibility that being exposed to them will let you know what you’re missing and whether you care, and isn’t that a good thing? If you needed affirmation that you liked or disliked Jack White or Alabama Shakes, Sunday’s show definitely was an opportunity to cement your feelings. If you’d never heard of fun. or of The Lumineers (who were my pleasant surprise of the evening), here was your opportunity.
But you know, the complaints generally seem to boil down to that timeless complaint heard from parents around the country.
“I remember when being talented counted for something.”
Oh, do you now? When was this exactly?
n It wasn’t in 1959 or 1960, when Elvis Presley lost record of the year to Bobby Darin and Percy Faith.
n It wasn’t in 1966, a year when The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” among others, were nominated for best rock ’n’ roll recording and lost out to the novelty hit “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudeville Band.
n It wasn’t in 1979, when Elvis Costello, Toto and The Cars were all nominated for best new artist and were beaten by A Taste of Honey.
n It wasn’t in 1989, when Jethro Tull won the newly introduced best hard rock performance category over, among others, AC/DC and Metallica.
More than two years after their first single was released, The Beatles were named best new artist. (The Grammys aren’t exactly up on the times. This year’s winners, fun., released their first album in August 2009 and their “new” album had been in release almost a full year the evening of this year’s awards.)
In the early 1980s, a co-worker proudly said, “I buy one record every year, and it’s whatever wins the Grammy for album of the year. What do you think of that?” My response was, “It sounds like you have a pretty lousy record collection.”
In fact, you could build a solid record collection exclusively of artists who have never won a Grammy award. It would include:
Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Chuck Berry, Bob Marley (the subject of a tribute Sunday night), Rush, Run D.M.C., Public Enemy, Sly & the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Kinks, ABBA, Dusty Springfield, Curtis Mayfield and The Byrds.
(Every one of those acts is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)
Like film’s Academy Awards, the Grammys are a small snapshot of a specific area of the art form. They are, for better or worse, the image the industry wishes to present to the average person looking in at that specific point in time. It means little more and little else. Neither is designed to honor what’s truly the “best” in the art form, and “best” being such a subjective thing, we should be grateful for that design.
Like it? Great. Hate it? If you dislike the Grammys (or Oscars, or Emmys), that attitude probably isn’t starting this year. There are new episodes of your cult TV shows (“The Walking Dead” Sunday, something else opposite the Oscars, presumably) airing. That’s probably more interesting that watching something you know is going to get under your skin in a bad way.