In Defense of NARAS and the Grammys

I’m not a member of NARAS.  Over the years, I’ve repeatedly thought about joining and always decided it wasn’t worth the money.

And there’s plenty for people both inside and outside the music industry to dislike about NARAS.  But in light of last night’s Grammys and the collective response of “Who?” to some of the winners… I thought I’d bring up the idea of what the goal of the Grammys is.

Should the Grammys cater to the tastes of the mainstream public (of which there isn’t one anymore) or should they vote for who they think are the most talented artists.  Yes, I know there’s plenty of politics played just like any other closed organization.  But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the voting is all done fairly.

Personally, I think other awards shows like the American Music Awards (which is based on sales numbers) are for the public’s taste.  The Grammy’s however are the industry folks voting for their own.  Would you complain to the National Plumber’s Association because you didn’t know the guy that got plumber of the year?

This is going to be an ongoing problem.  Thanks to the internet and the availability of zillions of songs by billions of artists, the audience is fractured to the point where we won’t have big stars that everyone likes anymore.  Mumford and Sons has already sold over a million records from what I hear.  And most people have never heard of them.  Esperanza Spalding topped the Billboard Jazz charts for 70 weeks.  I first heard about Arcade Fire probably six years ago.

The public still thinks there’s a mainstream and that they’re it.  Now they’re learning that there’s plenty of successful artists out there that you don’t hear on the radio or the Muzak system in the dentist’s office.  We’ll have to deal with this for a couple more years yet.  Hopefully, eventually, they’ll adapt to the idea that maybe the music industry insiders are aware of more artists than they are.

I’m glad as can be that Esperanza Spalding got best new artist and not Justin Bieber.  Despite what hordes of 12 year old girls say.  I didn’t know who she was either.  But a little reading and you’ll find out she was a prodigy on the upright bass at age 15 and in 2008 had one of the fastest selling jazz albums ever.  And a little listening told be she’s really good too.  Maybe all those 12 year old girls should look at her as a role model instead of the enemy of their “boyfriend” Bieber.

And honestly, I wanted Justin Bieber to wow me with his performance.  I wanted to believe the kid has a future as big as his balls.  But I don’t see it.  You can’t build a career by mimicking dance moves you’ve seen in videos and singing to your own voice as a guide track.  It looked like he one a contest to become a rock star for a day.  The fact that lyrics as insipid as “Baby baby baby ooh” gave him a hit song really makes me wretch.

So good for NARAS for looking past celebrity and picking a new artist that might have some staying power.

And the Arcade Fire?  I’m not a fan, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t win.  And looking at the nominees, I think I’d agree anyway.  Maybe Eminem should have won.  Recovery is a good album.  Not sure about Lady Antebellum.  Anyone heard a song besides “Need You Now?”

They’re really two different entities.  I’ve heard “Need You Now” a zillion times and never once did I listen to it purposefully.  It was just there somewhere in the daily musical noise of a thousand stores.  Whereas Arcade Fire dug up from the underground to be a success on their own terms instead of the Nashville hit machine.

I’ll admit, I almost always root for the underdog.

What I really saw last night was music as an art coming back from music as a business.  The big production numbers with people singing to tracks seemed lackluster compared to having real instruments on stage.  Of in the case of Cee-Lo, puppet instruments.

By the way, it thrills me to no end that a song called “Fuck You” was nominated for song of the year.  Even if they did change the title.  In recent years that would have been passed over in a second.

I saw Bruno Mars perform well and then wail like the dickens on those drums behind Janelle Monet.  Seems to know what he’s doing, so I’m going to check him out further.

Where I didn’t see the music going was “forward”.  I saw a lot of backward.  There’s till no answer to what the next really huge wave will be in music.  Maybe there won’t be one.  Maybe we’ve taken popular music as far as it can go.  But somehow I don’t believe that.  Somebody is going to do something groundbreaking.  It just hasn’t happened since rap was born in the 80’s.

Oh, and I hope Madonna sues the crap out of Lady Gaga for ripping of “Express Yourself” in such a blatant manner.  And the saying she was picturing Whitney Houston singing it?  She is on drugs.

Anyway, what’s your thoughts?  Should the Grammy’s reflect the tastes of the public or vote for who they think is best?  Comment below…

Phil Johnson
Winner of numerous Imaginary Awards

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    In Defense of NARAS and the Grammys — 3 Comments

    1. I totally agree with all of that except the part about Arcade Fire. It’s one thing to be underground but I saw no talent there that was any better than an average garage band playing at the local venue. And that pisses me off!

      • Oh, I certainly agree. I’m not a fan either. But in the battle of real instruments against overdone electronics and dance beats, I’d go with them.

        And one could certainly argue that Neil Young’s win for Best Rock Song for “Angry World” is an atrocity too. An unbelievably bad song on all fronts. So the voters aren’t perfect.

    2. I agree that the Grammy’s should reflect the best artistry instead of catering to public preference. I was thrilled to see Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers performing. Bruno Marz was a great surprise as well. I had heard a few of his songs on the radio, but his performance at last night made me take a closer look.

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