When it comes to congratulating itself with glitzy, overproduced awards shows, only Hollywood can hold a candle to the music industry.
So it is appropriate that in the few weeks between the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, we are treated to the annual celebration called the Grammy Awards.
The show begins at 8 tonight and promises an assortment of performances from a variety of genres.
Before you plop down for this Grammy-palooza, here are some questions you might be asking and the answers.
I have been deeply disappointed in the Grammys for years. Why should I watch this year? What will be different? Won’t it just be a few artists getting multiple awards while slews of deserving people are completely ignored?
I feel your pain. It’s a bit like a dysfunctional relationship that you keep returning to, against your better judgment. It’s true that the Grammys have done little to ingratiate themselves to the serious music fan. It has felt for a long time that there was an air of desperation around the ceremony and the nominations themselves – as if they’d hired focus groups to help them identify what was “cool.” (And for “cool,” read “likely to earn strong viewership numbers.”)
However, the “terrible factor” seems to be a bit lower this year. Some worthwhile artists and recordings have been nominated. More significantly, for the televised broadcast at least, there are some potentially awesome artist pairings planned, and the performance aspect could be very cool indeed. Metallica with Lang Lang; Daft Punk with Stevie Wonder; Paul McCartney doing lord knows what – these are all promising! Plus, Black Sabbath is nominated for a handful of Grammys. How cool is that?
You are pretty much the only critic in the country who didn’t think Kanye West’s “Yeezus” was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Why? And do you think West will win “Best Rap Album”?
My take on Kanye West is simply this: He’s interesting and fairly creative, but the critical reaction does not seem to be commensurate with the actual artistic output. “Clever” is not “genius.” It’s clever, and that’s it. Too many critics used West to attempt to make themselves appear hip and in touch. They should judge the music itself, not all the hipster factors attached to it.
West is simply a living, breathing advertisement for himself. He’s a decent rapper, he has some interesting ideas about new fusions of different idioms, and he’s so full of himself that one assumes he is being ironic. None of this makes him Chuck D. Collage art is cool, but it ain’t Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, is it?
Having said all of that, yeah, I figure West is pretty much guaranteed to grab the “Best Rap Album” statue. Go figure.
What’s the difference between “Record of the Year,” “Song of the Year” and “Album of the Year”? I’m confused.
“Record of the Year” goes to a particular song, or single, and the artist who recorded it. “Album” is for the whole collection, and goes to everyone involved in that album’s creation. “Song of the Year” goes to the songwriter, who is very often not the same person who performed the song.
Most of the pop artists nominated in the big categories this year are pretty middle-of-the-road. What are the more interesting categories?
It is a total bummer that, say, the “Album of the Year” category is full of people like Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, while some of the truly great albums that were released last year are either ignored, or stuck in the “Best Rock Album” or “Best Alternative Album” categories. They really should create a “Best Top 40 Pop” category, and be honest with themselves, and with us. Taylor Swift’s “Red” is potentially the best album released in 2013? Really? We’re in worse trouble than I thought.
However, if you look at the rock, alternative, instrumental jazz, metal and dance/electronica categories, you’ll get a much more broad and accurate picture of what was happening in the world of music in 2013. This has been the case with the Grammys for at least a decade, quite probably even longer.
Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is up for a Grammy. Should it win? And if it does, isn’t this an insult to all the people who have protested its potentially misogynistic lyrics?
“Blurred Lines” is stupid and catchy, and is a complete rip-off of Marvin Gaye, minus the subtlety and brilliance. Some of its detractors have suggested that the only lines it actually blurs are those between the words “yes” and “no,” in terms of male/female relationships. It’s a gross song. But if anyone is really looking to top 40 pop music for life lessons, then “Blurred Lines” is the least of their problems.
No, it shouldn’t win. The trophy should go to either Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” or Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie.” Those are both good jams.
The “Best Rock Album” category seems to be the one that is most stacked. Who do you think should win?
Any time you have a single category that includes Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Kings of Leon, Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age and Neil Young & Crazy Horse, well, you really have to make a serious effort to find something to complain about. I find this very exciting, because every single one of these albums is vastly different than the others. And yet, they are all very good albums – brilliant, in a few cases. I’d be very happy with a Bowie win, because “The Next Day” is a fantastic effort from one of the most consistently creative artists in the history of popular music. I love the Zeppelin live album, and Neil/Crazy Horse are completely iconic. But I would like to see the Grammy go to a younger artist – comparatively speaking – like Josh Homme, whose Queens of the Stone Age released a masterpiece with “... Like Clockwork.”
Why do the Grammys refer to the EDM category as “Dance/Electronica”? Do they think it’s 1997?
That is a little bit embarrassing, I suppose. But you get the point. Look at it this way: At least they have an EDM (electronic dance music) category! And they nominated Disclosure’s “Settle,” too, which suggests that they perhaps understand that “Dub Step” is an idiom, not a dance move.
Baby steps, people! Baby steps!
I think it’s awesome that Westfield music teacher Kent Knappenberger won the Music Educator Grammy. Will he be in the audience at the ceremony on Sunday?
Yes he will! Mr. Knappenberger has been in Los Angeles all week, engaging in all sorts of Grammy-related activity. He will be there with his wife, and it is likely that his name will be announced during the broadcast, and the camera will pan to their seats in the audience. Watch for it!
You criticize the Grammys pretty regularly. What would you do to make them different if you could, Mr. Big Shot?
Create a Grammy for music journalism.
In seriousness, I understand that the Grammys are as much about television as they are about music, if not more so. I would attempt to tilt that balance back toward the music, if I could. Who decided that seeing genuinely talented musicians and bands performing was not going to be as exciting as watching Katy Perry shaking her stuff, or Bruno Mars gyrating around the stage like Prince’s far less talented younger cousin?
The Grammys should be about the music. I find it infuriating that it is assumed we are all so attention span-challenged that we need to be beat about the head with glitzy excess in order to feel anything. There’s a place for that sort of thing. But there is also a place for music that dares to be creative outside of the run-of-the-mill dictates of the mainstream. A little bit more balance would be nice.