Saturday, February 16, 2013

Grammys 2013

I didn't watch the show this year, save for The Black Keys' amazing performance of "Lonely Boy" via Popmatters (all the links to the other performances were quickly taken down).  My predictions were spectacularly wrong this year, save for the one I was most sure about (i.e. the snubbing of Frank Ocean).  Black Keys upset Springsteen in the categories that he's owned for more than a decade, and although I have hated generally every two person drums/guitar garage-y rock band that's come along since 2001 (with No Age still being a somewhat inexplicable exception), Black Keys are the real deal, "Lonely Boy" is a killer song, and I feel safe in agreeing with Popmatters that their was the best performance of the night even without seeing another minute of the show.  

Instead of sitting through the entire three hour ceremony, it's probably better to read what really smart people had to say about the Grammys anyway.   Philip Sherburne found some silver linings in Skrillex's dominance of the dance music categories on his SPIN blog.  First, he argues, it's good that Grammy gave the awards to the act that's currently at the top of their game, as opposed to what they usually do (in rock, R&B ... apparently no genre is safe from this!) -- giving the nods to established acts that gets their nominations and awards mostly due to name recognition.  Skrillex's music might be indistinguishable from 90% of Chemical Brothers' back catalogue, but it sure is nice to see those kids and their hip new sounds taking the big win away from those old farts!  Second, the Grammys have given up on trying to integrate electronic music into the rest of the show.  They're content to let the categories stand in their own little quaint corner of the awards universe, much like the classical and jazz categories that most Grammy viewers couldn't give a crap about, rather than forcing the likes of Dave Grohl to play nice with David Guetta to the benefit of nobody.  I completely agree with Sherburne here.  Why force these cross-cultural mashups -- is it an attempt to "contextualize" the music for viewers who like rock but don't know anything about DJ culture?  Was Dave Grohl really going to act as a gateway for new fans possibly getting into Deadmau5?

Jon Caramanica touched on some of the same points in his Grammy piece for the NYT.  Every year we see younger performers on stage with veteran ones, and it's starting to feel like, in Caramanica's words, that the younger generation are being "effectively supervised by an older peer".  It's cool to see "dream pairings" of performers that span generations of music fans, but there are diminishing returns associated with them.  They catch your eye the first through tenth times you see them, but afterward they become just another gimmick that the Grammys use to get people to tune into the broadcast, and they cease to be special.

On the other hand, the Grammys happen only once a year (it's not as if Paul McCartney and Jay-Z are forced to tour together or anything) and the Grammys have always been at least one generation behind popular trends.  Just look at the awards handed out in the 1960's -- almost none of it has any critical cache today.  Caramanica looks at Grammy success of Black Keys and Mumford and Sons with the glass empty.  He sees their wins as enforcement of a Grammy narrative that nothing innovative has been done in music since the 1960's.  But that sort of music was going to win anyway, because the Grammys need thirty years to adapt to new trends.  That being the unavoidable state of things, I say it's better to give the awards to the young guys rather than the older ones.  It's incremental progress, but at least it's something.  

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