Our Fearless Grammy Recap

Adele sweeps Grammys

Last year, “Music’s biggest night” was an attempt to pull the award show out of the dark ages by, for once, giving the Album of the Year award to the most deserving nominee, Arcade Fire’s sprawling concept album The Suburbs. So the question this year, is would they continue to get things right? Award shows, and the Grammys more specifically, should never be given too much credibility since they are often run by a group of people who have a conflict of interest (in this case, The Recording Academy, consisting of primarily music execs from record companies) and thus the awards can often be used as more promotion than recognition of what was truly the best.  One peek through the nominees and you can see this year’s Grammys by no means captures the best music of 2012. This is partially due to music is more diversified than ever, and thus its fairly difficult to decide on the best in an industry so wide and sprawling, no matter how many categories there are (79 this year, down from 108 last year). But mostly, it’s just because the people voting are out-of-touch and view commercial success as the primary indicator of musical greatness.

As an evaluator, the best I can do is tell you out of the respective nominees and the night as a whole, what the 2012 Grammys got just right and horrifyingly wrong.

ROCK

Right: Alternative music, a name that insinuates the 90’s more than anything, is somehow still a category, but at least they got this one right. Bon Iver won Best Alternative Music Album for their amazing self-titled sophomore album, which is great to see, especially since Justin Vernon, who is Bon Iver, has openly been opposed to the idea of the Grammys since being nominated. This wouldn’t be the last we would hear from Vernon on the night.

Wrong: Rock music was a mess this year, and the categories are even a bit dated. The rock category is filled with bands that made a name for themselves in the 90s, Coldplay, and Jeff Beck (who always finds a way to get nominated for something). Foo Fighters pulled in four rock Grammys for a bit of a return-to-form album in Wasting Light, and Dave Grohl talked like they made rock music human again in his acceptance speech. Is this really the state of rock music, that in the year of 2012, the Foo Fighters are sweeping the rock Grammys and acting like they are reinventing the genre? You would think it was watching the Grammys.

PERFORMANCES

Right: Kudos to the Recording Academy for acting fast and putting together a tribute for Whitney Houston done by another big-voiced singer, Jennifer Hudson. Live legend Springsteen also opened the Grammys for opening with his E Street Band, though minus legendary rock saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died this past year. Mini-performances by Civil Wars and Stevie Wonder were also better than most if not all of the full performances.

Wrong: If you opted for watching Walking Dead instead of the Grammys, you saw by no means the most horrifying bit of television on the night. Leave that up to Nicki Minnaj, who put on a lowest-common-denominator performance full of religious shock value summoning The Exorcist. I actually think Nicki Minnaj is highly talented and essentially a character actor in rap, but her performance brought a very disturbing moment in an otherwise very tame night.

THE BIG FOUR

Right: The four most envied and contested categories with the Grammys are Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Of these, the super-talented and super-British Adele swept the three of these Grammys she was nominated for (Song, Record, and Album of the Year) plus was 6 for 6 for awards on the night. She was no doubt the biggest winner of the night. They also awarded the Best New Artist to Bon Iver, which was clearly the best candidate, who delivered the most genuine speech of the night.

Wrong: So they got all four of these awards right, but what about the Best New Artist category in general? It was Bon Iver’s second album (his first in 2008) and it strikes me as just plain silly for someone to win a new artist award just because they became commercially successful in a given year. You can tell Justin Vernon felt the same, and voiced how unimportant the award was calling it just a “sweet hookup”. Vernon instead used the space to recognize all the bands that would never see this stage, but have inspired him invaluably nonetheless.

^Bon Iver’s Acceptance Speech

PRESENTATION

Right: While LL Cool J hosting the Grammys evoked a “Really?” reaction out of me, he was surprisingly poignant to open the show with a prayer and some kind words in regards to Whitney Houston’s passing. Also, Superbowl champion receiver Victor Cruz doing the salsa never hurt anybody either.

Wrong: The simple fact that Lady Gaga got shown on screen was a crime, as it literally looked like she was choking under fishnets. I know being a pop star often means you are a fashion innovator, but being artistic and a nut job doesn’t have to be totally synonymous. Also, when some of your presenters are Reba McIntyre, Marc Anthony, and that goth chick from NCIS, you are pretty out of touch.

Finally, I understand that newer music doesn’t have the recognition of older established acts, but how dated are the Grammy awards and its performers? I see this as being partially due to the Grammys airing on CBS, the major network with the oldest demographic pairing with music, the art form with notably the youngest. This will never make sense to me, and is part of the reason the Grammys will always feel irrelevant. The awards atrocities date back to the sixties when one of the bands they celebrated this year, The Beach Boys, got hosed alongside the Beatles and other great sixties rock groups for Best Rock song by a very square novelty song called “Winchester Cathedral”, in 1967, arguably the biggest and most important year in rock history. While it is great that they are recognizing classic artists now, the supposedly premiere Recording Academy is consistently late to the party on acts.

The show did close on a fine palette cleanser to wash off the filth of Katy Perry and Nicki Minnaj by having Springsteen and Grohl join in with McCartney, whose aged quite nobly,  for a good old-fashioned rock medley of Abbey Road tunes. But even with a strong finish, and getting the major four awards correct, the Grammys will probably never be quality TV, but they sure are still fun to watch and entertaining to talk about, as long as people like Nicki Minnaj levitates and Lady Gaga dresses with some random inanimate object.

For my full recap, check it out RELEVANT.

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7 comments

  • Mitchell Burns

    I love reading your guys’ posts. Keep em comin. IMO there’s only one noteworthy occurrence during last nights Grammys: Nicki Minaj’s performance sucked so much sweaty balls it hurt to watch it. I reported the YouTube video as inappropriate.

  • Amee Miser

    I was so underwhelmed by the Grammy’s last night. I personally thought that the only noteworthy performances were Jason Aldean/Kelly Clarkson, Bruno Mars, the first song Paul McCartney perfermed, and of course, Jennifer Hudson. All of the other acts were just boring, I’m sorry. Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj were laughable…oh, and what happened to Chris Brown? Not impressed.

  • Amee Miser

    Sorry, I forgot about Adelle, she was fantastic, as always!

  • I agree with all the comments except Paul McCartney. He clearly couldn’t reach the high notes with “My Valentine”. Mike Love primarily but the Beach Boys LipSync’ing of their voices 50 yrs ago was SO wrong on So many levels! Who the hell produces this show? Maybe they should attend The Brit Awards some year just to get some winning ideas.
    Nikki M’s fiasco couldn’t/shouldn’t even deserve a comment. It was downright embarrassing again in so many ways/long list. American award shows should be banned from TV honestly! There isn’t one show that deserves mention. It’s like ‘whoever’ is producing it because no one else gives a crap. They do not represent the best in music or talent has to offer. Oh oh! The thought of the Oscars night is making me shiver already. Same old-no doubt…………

  • Not a bad little recap, though I almost stopped reading at line 7/8. The Recording Academy isn’t primarily label execs, it’s people from all areas of the music industry, most notably, working musicians. So some of the very artists you praised for their work, you may also have to blame for their votes.
    Don’t hate on Bruno Mars – dude can work it.
    Bon Iver is actually the recipient of (ironically, in this year) the Whitney Houston faux pas, where she was shut out of winning Best New Artist because of a previously released duet. NARAS has been fudging that one ever since, sometimes with spectacularly (Milli Vanilli) bad results.
    Listen to Grohl again; he wasn’t talking about his band’s music but they way they made it. They’re far from original or the best band out there, but at least they did it without AutoTune. Same goes for elder statesman McCartney – I’ll take a bum note or two over lip-synching.
    And the Beach Boys were, I guess you could describe it, “live” lip-synching. Brian Wilson’s backing band did for them as a group what they’ve been doing on Wilson’s solo tours for years now – reinforcing the vocals. So, yeah, it’s all sung live, but much more capably by the backing singers. The Beach Boys reunion was/is not a good idea, but it’s a nostalgic celebration of something that never was, not a musical statement.
    As to one of your main arguments – “it’s just because the people voting are out-of-touch and view commercial success as the primary indicator of musical greatness.” I certainly can’t refute that out-of-hand, but nor would I accept it as the chief reason for the Grammys being underwhelming. To me, Adele was to this year what the “O Brother” soundtrack was a decade ago. It was the rare time when a great artistic statement aligned with critical acclaim and captured the fancy of the public at the same time. (On the other hand, an egregious example of toadying this year was the Producer’s award being given to Adele’s producer. What’s sad is that those nominations are made by a committee of techs, and there were WAY better produced and engineered projects last year. Heck, I’d have given it to Butch Vig for the Foos album, before that guy.
    So, as you said, they got Adele (and a few other things) right, and I’ll agree they got a lot of things wrong. And they’ve only been doing it wrong about half as long as the Motion Picture Academy! Id suggest you try and change it from within, if you’ve the stomach and the credentials to become a voting member. It’s actually a fascinating process that I got to be a part of for several years. My sense though is that if anybody has any interest in doing something cutting edge, or if among the hipster doofuses the idea of an award has any credibility (perhaps not, according to Justin Vernon), it’d have to be a whoile new, SXSW-type of organization.

    • Wes

      Bruce, good insight. As far as the recording academy, it started and was put together by major music execs but you are right to say it is also musicians, producers, etc. Also, I think you are right to say its a good message for Grohl to stress the importance of humanity in music, I just thought it felt a little self-important, since there are so many bands that record analog (other rock grammy noms My Morning Jacket, and Coldplay in the past being big examples). I guess I get annoyed that people don’t know that recording on analog isn’t that unusual.

      • I’m not sure there’s a fix, quick or otherwise. Currently there’s not much of an incentive for the industry to fix its back-patting mechanism; it’s too busy trying to stay in business. I’ve never been an artist on a scale that would garner that much attention, but even at my modest level, I found recognition and affirmation to be gratifying. It’s obviously not the thing that keeps a Justin Vernon going, but I still thank some sort of recognition, beyond people voting with their dollars, is a good thing. The problem is, when you’re comparing so many different kinds of apples with so many different types of oranges, I don’t know how you could qualify a “best.” Or even if, as the NARAS credo says, you acknowledge “excellence,” does that in itself imply that what they don’t acknowledge is less than excellent? The Country, Americana, Folk and Bluegrass genres, somewhat lumped together by NARAS, all have their own awards ceremonies. My sense from those artists is that those “narrowcasted” awards are as meaningful, if not more so, than Grammys.

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