Monday, December 8, 2008

THE GRAMMMYS!!! ughhhhh ...

The Grammy Awards has backed itself into a paradoxical corner.

The artists nominated (with few exceptions) in the major categories are neither the inane pop heard on Top 40 radio stations, nor is it the critic/indie rock currently receiving the best writing and influencing serious artists of the future. Besides the two or three acts with the most nominations, the hundreds of other slots are filled by marginally acclaimed music listened to by nearly nobody. Industry types assume that an acclaimed indie band wont bring the ratings, but they would feel silly giving (fill in the top 40 name blank) an award for Record of the Year . Finding interesting popular music to give awards to is nearly an impossible task. No one buys a Christina Aguilera CD because Pitchfork (they would never) gave it a good review. But poeple will tune into the awards show if Xtina is peforming, same goes for J. Lo, whoever else is hot ... im dating myself ... shit.

The nominations fill the void between cutting-edge brainy rock and soulless T-Pain executions, and land somewhere in Starbucksland. In other words, the nominations are as safe as telling Grandma that you like her pumpkin pie - acoustic guitars rule (along with 4/4 song structures) and any female vocalist needs to sound slightly less edgy or interesting than Amy Winehouse.

I don't think anyone worth a shit was raving about Jason Mraz's new album. You can put it on in the background and not offend your frumpy aunt, but it's not going to inspire any creative thought or new perspectives about music or the world. Same goes for Coldplay, who's "Viva La Vida" was only slightly less bland than "X and Y" and "Rush of Cold Blood to the Head." These are the kind of nominations you get when the pop-country bunch, ring-tone rap and auto-tuned R 'n' B are the top-selling genres and the best sounding artists print 80,000 copies of their albums on tiny labels. The Grammys simply split the difference and nominate Coldplay, which is popular enough with soccer moms who refuse to admit that they are, in fact, soccer moms. Nominations for Adelle, Duffy, Mraz and even Plant and Krause are for big corporate acts that long to be indie, the rock 'n' roll version of in-denial soccer moms. Some of the acts - Coldplay - are actually pretty popular and can fill stadiums. Others - Adelle and Duffy - are simply on major labels that try to promote them as something big when really I don't think anyone is listening to more than maybe their single.

But, the Grammys have always been afraid to go out on a limb, or be in on any current or future trends. That's how you end up with Jethro Tull winning best Metal album over Metallica in 1990. With our short memories, obvious past mistakes such as the Tull/Metallica debacle are often white-washed by the fuzzy glow of romanticism. People are relentlessly nostalgic about pop's past (why can't music - that actually sells - be as good as it was in the '60s? blah blah blah). While there is some truth to that idea, I don't remember the Clash winning album of the year for "London Calling" in '77, or N.W.A. winning in '88. The Grammys would always rather be safe than sorry, even if the year's most offensive album is the most relevant and influential. (I can see why the Grammys would not like to award an album containing "Fuck the Police,," as its stand out track, as best album of the year - but it did sort of popularize a little thing called gangster rap.)

There is also a reason Lief Garret and the Partridge Family are still popping up on VH1 circle-jerk sessions - people listened to a lot of horrible fucking music back in the day, too.

So the Grammys have always been a little behind, but the lag only becomes more apparent as the glaring riff widens between what's "interesting/good/creative/accomplished, etc" (at least defined by the Pitchfork/hipster/critic crowd) and what's "popular" (at least according to the Jonas Brothers set.)

Side note: When did tweens become the American barometer for pop? Isn't it universally accepted that tweens are the least cool age to be - i.e. - wannabe teens with childish reflexes? Have you ever been in a middle school? I don't think even middle school kids like middle school kids. If anything else, their recent choices for entertainment have been dubious at best - High School Musical, WTF? ).

Admittedly, the Grammys did seem to do slightly better this year than past, but barely. The nominating commitee threw folks like myself a few bones. But M.I.A. most likely would not have received a nom if the "Pineapple Express" trailer didn't introduce "Paper Planes" to sorority girls everywhere. Little Wayne was one of the nomination leaders. "Tha Carter III" - was a good album, but it doesn't hold a stick to other hip-hop monuments. Radiohead received a bunch of nods. Kings of Leon did also, for probably the worst song the band has recorded, "Sex on Fire," off the band's weakest LP so far. And with the Grammys weird-ass calender, 2007's Radiohead's album feels like ancient history.

The category that really exploits the Grammys overall lack of fresh opinion is "Best New Artist." The obvious omissions strike the heart of this entire rant. The debut by the Fleet Foxes is my favorite record of the year (in any category). They are a bunch of 22-year-old Seattle kids that construct baroque-folk melodies and harmonies as rich as anything by the Beach Boys, CSNY or (more recently) Band of Horses. I'm not the only one, the album has one of the year's highest scores on (an average of critic reviews across the country). Vampire Weekend, whose debut might just be my second favorite album of the year wasn't nominated either, neither was MGMT. Here's who was nominated: Adele, Duffy, Jonas Brothers, Lady Antebellum and Jazmine Sullivan. Who the fuck is Jazmine Sullivan? I subscribe to three music magazines and check at least 3 or 4 music Web sites daily and have never heard of her or her music. Duffy and Adele are preprocessed, over-hyped, over-packaged Winehouse-lites, and The Jonas Brothers have already been popular on the Disney channel for at least three years.

I will only be watching the Grammys this year if I can score some really pure heroin, or have been in a debilitating car wreck and rejoice at any opportunity to kill four hours.

Of course this rant is deflated by simply saying "Your entire look at the Grammys is warped through the lens of your own tastes."

And my answer is: my tastes are better, and you should know that already.


Amber Krosel said...

Vampire Weekend is pretty great. But I still think Adele's kinda cool. No? I just like her voice. But I don't really sit around and listen to her all the time, and I don't see the overhype. Maybe 'cause I don't pay attention to that stuff. Oh, I just long to be in the shadows of your good opinions. :)

jhjv2kv52 said...

I had no problem with Adele until she was nominated for a Grammy.

Amber Krosel said...

p.s. love the new header.

The Juice Box said...

I've had three updates in one week. Where's yours?

The Juice Box said...

And how creepy that I've morphed in the comments section.