RE: The Grammys’ Commercialism & Cultural Arbitration
God I shouldn’t waste your time or mine on this, it’s like complaining about cold weather in West Michigan. Everyobody knows. There’s nothing insightful about saying ”sure is cold out” and I definitely wouldn’t read or write a thousand words on it, but here we are: I’m complaining about the Grammy’s and you’re reading about it. In 2014. Still.
Where to start, where to start. Macklemore’s text to Kendrick, curiously/comedically saved in his contacts as “Kendrick Real”? Hunter Hayes’ hour long (it felt like it) bully awareness PSA? Taylor Swift’s awkward-isn’t-a-strong-enough-word-for-it dancing to m.A.A.d city? Nah. Let’s save the sad stuff for later. For now let’s focus on the positives. Beyoncé’s still the coolest person possibly ever. Kendrick Lamar effectively made me not hate Imagine Dragons for a few minutes in my long, already cynical enough life. Stevie Wonder performed with Daft Punk. Pharrell’s hat. Um. Uh. I think that’s it… (crickets chirping)
I’m not gonna sweat the small stuff here like Katy Perry’s weird black magic shit or the fact that Jared Leto still exists. But there are some serious, in no way new, but still serious problems with this year’s Grammy Awards. The biggest and most obvious being just how out of touch the Recording Academy is with the critical, and really just serious music fan, community. There’s just no explanation for Macklemore winning Hip Hop Album of the Year. Besides him selling more albums it’s completely inexplicable to me. Music is measured for the most part in two ways- commercially, and critically. You could argue commercial accolades like gold and platinum records reflect a more populist appreciation for the music than critical acclaim and awards, as albums are bought (hehe) by the public, where the critical community only represents a very small portion of music listeners. But there’s a few problems with that, most importantly that it suggests art’s merit is objectively determined through economic success, and furthermore that populism and voting in this capitalist system are performed by spending money, which in a free market is never equal representation (but that’s a whole different subject we don’t need to get into here.)
Commercial performance should never affect critical perception and arbitration, which is exactly what the Grammys are. The award winners aren’t decided by the public, they’re voted on by the Recording Academy, made up of musicians, producers, engineers, etc. These are supposedly the elite, highly educated music listeners of the world making the decisions. And I’m not saying that’s the best way to measure music, because nobody likes cultural elitism, but that’s the way it is, and the fact that The Heistwas chosen over good kid m.A.A.d city just boggles my mind. GKMC was the most universally critically acclaimed hip hop album since Dark Twisted. XXL and the Source were talking about Kendrick like he was the second coming of Tupac or Christ. Any publication that didn’t have it as their AOTY stood out like a sore thumb, and I don’t remember many. It was one of those weird fact-opinions, like Michael Jordan being the greatest ball player of all time or the Beatles being the best band. Everybody knew good kid m.A.A.d city was the best album of 2012. Even Macklemore I guess.
This isn’t the first time obviously. Whiny, know it all articles like this come out after the Grammys every year criticizing the Academy of being out in space the past or under a rock the past 364 days of the headphone enclosed year. Artists from Justin Vernon to Eddie Vedder have scolded the institution behind it’s very podium, and Sinead O’Connor even boycotted the show due to it’s extreme commercialism. She’s got a point too. The Grammys are a product, and when viewed through a solely economic lens I can see how Macklemore & Ryan Lewis pretty much swept every award. Just look at the post-Grammy media content. I’ve seen multiple sponsored ads on my twitter feed celebrating the progress made at the Grammys when thirty-some same sex couples were married as the duo played the brain blisteringly cloying Same Love on stage in front of green screen stained glass windows. Now I’m not trying to detract from LGBT progress or claim that art can’t deal with social and political activism, one of my favorite Neil Young songs, Philadelphia, is a beautiful ode to equality for homosexuality. What I will say however is that the entire thing has been framed in a rather uncomfortable, insincere way by the media. It feels less like a monumental moment shared by the nation than one big ad covered spectacle consumed by the masses. The whole past year’s felt that way for me with Macklemore and his gay rights campaign. And it’s a trap too because if you don’t think Mack and Same Love represent progress then you’re homophobic. But I’m not. I just think it’s corny and heavy-handed. Art can affect change, but it has to first and foremost function as good art. If the art is shit it’s going to stink up the message because that’s how shit works, it smells. Kids don’t take anti-drug public service announcements seriously because they’re corny and just plain laughable. Like how I don’t take Hunter Hayes’ anti-bullying song seriously, because it’s so laughably cheesy it almost makes bullying seem cool. Like how I don’t take Same Love or the Grammys seriously.
At least Beyoncé’s still awesome.
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