time to change the way we view music and the arts

All’s Fair in Love and Awards

Yes, I’m going to talk about the Grammys. Yes, lots of other people are blogging about it too. It would be wrong not to say something. It’s really the perfect setting that’s asking for any number of debates to break out. However, right from the start, I want you to know that I will not make this a post consisting only of: “ZOMG!!” “Are you kidding me?!!!!,” “So-and-So was robbed!!,” “AHHH I LOVE _____!” and the like. I’m referring to the more tactful end of the spectrum. Though I’m sure a few drinks might spill in our hypothetical bar.

Anyway, after claiming over three hours of my attention, the award show provoked my thoughts to be sure. What I mentioned in my last post about the Grammys own seeming inconsistency and the dilemma of overlapping votes had both some falseness and a few grains of truth to it. In case any of you aren’t familiar, here’s a brief run down of the voting process and the different types of membership.

Something I’d like to note out of that breakdown:

“To help ensure the quality of the voting, members are directed to vote only in their fields of expertise;”

And in case you’re wondering who and what credentials that make up the voting body that is the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, (also known as the Recording Academy of Music,) let’s review!

Recording Academy voting members are professionals with creative or technical credits on six commercially released tracks (or their equivalent). These may include vocalists, conductors, songwriters, composers, engineers, producers, instrumentalists, arrangers, art directors, album notes writers, narrators, and music video artists and technicians.

Also, please note the difference in required credentials for voting members with strictly digital distribution:

If you have received technical or creative credit in any one qualifying category on at least 12 tracks or equivalent, you qualify. All recordings must have been commercially released in the United States and distributed through recognized online music retailers. Applicants must be actively promoting themselves in their chosen field. One qualifying credit must have been released within the last five years.

(Cit. Grammy FAQs)

Now that we’re gotten the basics out of the way, it’s much easier to keep a level head when looking back on the whole ceremony. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of people who still internally must wonder, “What the heck are they smoking in that voting room?” and “It must be rigged; they all are.” If that were the case though, I don’t believe things could have unfolded the way they did last night. Twitter was rampant with public commentary and reactions milliseconds after each award was given out, and that goes especially for Album of the Year and Best New Artist.

Justin Bieber was a frontrunner in the betting pools for Best New Artist. Leagues of fans aside (which isn’t even supposed to be a factor in the deciding process) Bieber’s status was one of those unspoken “semi-obvious” things that every other nominated artist was aware of, even if they didn’t want to talk about it. Of course, that taboo was busted apart with the first award when Train frontman Patrick Monahan starts the group’s acceptance speech in the category of “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal” by saying,

“Wow, I’m freaking out. Thanks Justin Bieber for not being a duo or group.”

The accompanying wave of laugher makes it no secret Bieber was the favorite.

Yet, when Bieber was out voted by multi-instrumental jazz musician Esperanza Spalding, and so many people did a double-take, said “who???” and immediately consulted google, there’s no denying that the award was presented to an artist that absolutely defined the word “New,” even if she didn’t epitomize popularity. In expressing some personal reaction, if there was ever a time when I would have expected a rigged and lazy choice for the winner so that I didn’t hold my breath, it was for this category. Lack of Justin Bieber’s win completely shattered what the majority of viewers expected to happen, whether you were a “fan” or a “hater” of the pop star. Thing is, if there was a “Best Rising New Artist” that would probably better reflect what everyone was (sub)consciously banking on, which was total star power rather than quality.

(On a related side note, Spalding’s win was so shocking that the Huffington Post even released an article with video entitled: “Revealed: Who is Esperanza Spalding and Why She Won the Grammy.”)

…Album of the Year, the last award presented at the end of the night, delivered another blow against the impression that “it’s all a baseless facade.” Though MTV did make that statement about past “wild cards” winning, it’s not as if the indie band Arcade Fire was stacked at the top of most bloggers’/professionals’ lists. There was, (for example here,) pre-existing buzz about Arcade Fire maybe taking the win, as well as just the general observation that more nominations went to bands and/or labels that reside off the beaten mainstream path. Still, a similar reaction exploded on Twitter in the wake of the relatively unknown Canadian band overcoming media monopolists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, ceasing the night’s stream of wins by freshly recognized Lady Antebellum and slanting the spotlight away from powerfully clean and sober Eminem. So beyond everyone’s bells, whistles and eggs, the Recording Academy of Music appeared to have voted the night’s most prestigious award with their “extraneous pop-culture blinders” on and secure. At least for some of the viewers, decisions such as these reinstated a level of “faith” in the music industry with regard to its ability to thoughtfully evaluate with self-imposed objectivity. (or at least as much objectivity as one can have in the field of music.)

Aside from those two main shocks for the night, the other main positive piece I took away from the show lies mostly in thoughts for the long term. Every year there are good and bad aspects of the awards and every year the show has to be innovative. Pull the magnification out a little though, and you’ll notice that aside from specific quirks, the overall trend of the Grammys may be becoming more open and accepting than some think. And by some, I’m referring to the classical composers, engineers, performers and labels. Classical music, as well as piles of other more specific genres, are bestowed with their awards before the telecast and are much more direct and to the point. While I’m not going to dismantle the reasons why that may be considered right or wrong, currently there’s nothing too odd about finding quiet acceptance to these conditions among the community and not seeing a group like the Nashville Symphony Orchestra performing Michael Daugherty’s Grammy winning, “Dues Ex Machina” under laser lights in the Staples Center.

That may be the way things are now but looking at even more recent of years, seeing a pair like bluegrass singer Alison Krauss and Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant take five Grammys for one album (in 2009) that adeptly fused but didn’t overtly exemplify either artists’ individual styles, thereby coming across as somewhat of an anomaly in and of itself, means that this year’s rise in “indie inertia” is only progressing the acceptance of “the unknown.” It’s not as if having more and more lesser known faces or songs causes TV stations to drop ratings so rapidly that the broadcast crashes like an overworked computer. The show was broadcast, it was watched, it’s being talked about and people will watch again next year. So perhaps with each passing year, a different form of the new, unknown, reserved or underdog will be thrown out from stage left until one day someone like the New York Philharmonic’s conductor, Alan Gilbert walks out cracking jokes about Miley Cyrus too.

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