The Grammys (or ‘In which I complain about things I know nothing about’)
February 3, 2010 § Leave a comment
The Grammys are seeming more and more like Santa each year. Weird comparison? I say that not because the ceremony is full of people dressed in red velvet with giant bushy beards (in fact compared to Lady Gaga that would be quite demure), but because they are becoming less and less magical with each passing year. As children we are filled with joy at the thought of a magical man who travels around the world in one night, delivering gifts and spreading joy. But then we grow up and our illusions are shattered as we realise none of this is possible, that Santa is nothing more than an excuse for our parents to eat mince pies and drink sherry in the middle of the night. In this way, the Grammys and Santa are the same to me. As soon as I knew of the existence of the Grammys, they held a special magical quality for me. Grammy winners were true stars, idols. The ceremony was a magical evening filled with incredible performances, and everything and everyone sparkled from the fairy dust that encloaked them (at least through my little eyes). Now I’m all grown up, and all of this has fallen apart.
Still, each year I find myself eagerly anticipating the awards. And each year I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth as the realization sets in that the music industry is run by powerful people who have no interest in music itself but are instead entirely concerned with their bank balances. Not that this is some big secret, I mean I’m not inventing the wheel here. I just find it fascinating, and terrifying, that the influence of these people is so far reaching. They rule the charts, as well as the minds of consumers who buy, listen to, and support the music that they are told is ‘popular’ (thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and actually making it popular).
I’m not saying that all of the artists that the National Academy of Recording Arts choose to honour are undeserving. Take for example this year’s biggest winners, Beyoncé Knowles and Taylor Swift. Both are talented and hard-working women who I really do have a lot of respect, and even admiration, for. Are there other artists who are just as equally talented artists out there who go without any recognition? Definitely. But I have no qualms with Knowles and Swift winning. They have real talent. Which brings me to the Black Eyed Peas…
I can only compare the first time I heard ‘I Gotta Feeling’ to the first time I heard N-Dubz. I laughed. I cringed. I said “This will never be liked/get any airtime/be in any way successful”. Then I watched as all of those statements were categorically disproved. Even to this day, I do not understand why the song has been so successful. It has a relatively decent beat, but the lyrics? Practically non-existent. It’s just Will.i.am yelling out random sentences. “I got my money…let’s spend it up…go out and smash it…more random syllables that fit…” For this song to be hailed as the best group pop performance of the WHOLE year is shocking. Although I suppose it’s only fitting when you consider just how successful the song was. It’s just a shame that popularity, and labels like ‘best’, have nothing to do with quality anymore. Or perhaps never did.
It’s interesting how the group have managed to completely switch categories without anyone noticing. Their first two Grammys (yes, they have racked up several wins), for ‘Let’s Get It Started’ and ‘Don’t Phunk With My Heart’, were for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Then in 2007 they won Best Pop performance by a Duo or Group for ‘My Humps’. Because obviously the sound of that song is genres apart from the previous two. Obviously. No? (Don’t even get me started on those wins, ‘Let’s Get It Started’ was originally ‘Let’s Get Retarded’ and ‘My Humps’ was nothing more than Fergie fondling herself for the world to see. Whilst Wikipedia claims the song was ‘the subject of severe criticism by the music press’, the Grammys chose to hold it up and honour it as having excelled all other group pop performances of that whole year). The award for Best Pop Vocal Album also went to the Black Eyed Peas, ahead of nominees Colbie Caillat, The Fray, Kelly Clarkson and P!nk. Being a huge P!nk fan there are major issues of bias here so it’s probably best I keep opinions regarding this category to myself (let’s just say if Funhouse and The E.N.D. were to get in a fight, I know who’d I put my money on).
After having attacked almost everything about the Black Eyed Peas, it seems a little contradictory to say that I actually don’t dislike them that much. They just happen to be a very fitting example of what popular music has become. It seems that if you take a semi-decent beat, a selection of rhyming syllables, and a whole load of neon paint…you get Grammys. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame made a brief appearance on Twitter (@trent_reznor) to post this ‘The Grammys = the old guard / old media propping up their puppets trying to convince the outside world (and each other) they’re relevant.’ Whilst I agree with the sentiment behind his comment, I believe the people he references are in fact very relevant, and if not relevant at least very powerful. And in the business world, power seems to equal success.
Perhaps you disagree with everything I’ve said, and think that the winners were all very deserving of their honours. Kings of Leon for example. They’re a good band, they make good music, ‘Use Somebody’ actually beat out Beyoncé to win Record of the Year. Which is fantastic. If it wasn’t for the fact that Kings of Leon are probably now destined to make Only By the Night over and over again, or forever be shunned by the industry. Just look at Kelly Clarkson. Don’t dare try and change your formula once you’ve become a Grammy sweetheart!! (Sarcasm doesn’t come across so well in type). But what do I know? Certainly nothing of any importance. Perhaps all of the points I’ve made have been invalid. It’s hard to explain coherently what you think when all you really want to do is find an object large and weighty enough to knock some humanity back into every single money-grabbing, soulless person in the music industry. Boy that’d have to be a big object.
My final point is somewhat more hopeful than the pessimistic rant I have engaged in for the past however-long-it-took-you-to-trawl-through-my-narcissism. Whilst many things about this year’s Grammys left me feeling perplexed and irritated, there were moments of brilliance. Namely P!nk. Lady Gaga opened the show by bringing Elton John out for a theatrical, ash-smeared rendition of Speechless/Your Song. People cheered. Beyoncé then charged her way through her If I Were A Boy/You Oughta Know mash-up (crotch grab included). People cheered. Some stood and cheered. And then came P!nk. And she blew them away. Just in case you think my aforementioned bias is coming into play here, I’ll refer you to the words of Bill Werde (@bwerde), editor for Billboard.com. During his running commentary of the night, he tweeted this “Some asking if I missed Beyoncé’s standing o. But she didn’t get a full house by a longshot. Pink brought the whole place up.” Performers like P!nk give me hope that maybe the music business isn’t dead after all. She sang live whilst performing acrobatics in a silk suspended from the roof of the Staples Center. If talent like her exists, why are we rewarding the people who lip-sync, the people who make the same song over and over again, the people who seem to have no passion for the industry that is making them so rich. I’d like to say that with talented performers being given a stage (for the record I include Beyoncé and Lady Gaga in that statement), perhaps other artists will step up, and consumers will stop being drawn into the web of commercialism that is spun so enticingly around them. Sadly, the vast majority of people are so conditioned to expect imitations that they cannot tell fake from real. This is typified in the fact that a large number of people questioned whether or not P!nk did sing live during her performance. She did of course. People are simply so used to this lip-sync, auto-tune nightmare of an age that we live in that they cannot believe a performance of that class could be real. Well kids, it was. Now get back to watching those robot dancers the Black Eyed Peas brought with them. If you stare hard enough, you might not notice that Fergie can’t actually sing.