Last year, “Music’s biggest night” was an attempt to pull the award show out of the dark ages by, for once, giving the Album of the Year award to the most deserving nominee, Arcade Fire’s sprawling concept album The Suburbs. So the question this year, is would they continue to get things right? Award shows, and the Grammys more specifically, should never be given too much credibility since they are often run by a group of people who have a conflict of interest (in this case, The Recording Academy, consisting of primarily music execs from record companies) and thus the awards can often be used as more promotion than recognition of what was truly the best. One peek through the nominees and you can see this year’s Grammys by no means captures the best music of 2012. This is partially due to music is more diversified than ever, and thus its fairly difficult to decide on the best in an industry so wide and sprawling, no matter how many categories there are (79 this year, down from 108 last year). But mostly, it’s just because the people voting are out-of-touch and view commercial success as the primary indicator of musical greatness.
As an evaluator, the best I can do is tell you out of the respective nominees and the night as a whole, what the 2012 Grammys got just right and horrifyingly wrong.
Right: Alternative music, a name that insinuates the 90’s more than anything, is somehow still a category, but at least they got this one right. Bon Iver won Best Alternative Music Album for their amazing self-titled sophomore album, which is great to see, especially since Justin Vernon, who is Bon Iver, has openly been opposed to the idea of the Grammys since being nominated. This wouldn’t be the last we would hear from Vernon on the night.
Wrong: Rock music was a mess this year, and the categories are even a bit dated. The rock category is filled with bands that made a name for themselves in the 90s, Coldplay, and Jeff Beck (who always finds a way to get nominated for something). Foo Fighters pulled in four rock Grammys for a bit of a return-to-form album in Wasting Light, and Dave Grohl talked like they made rock music human again in his acceptance speech. Is this really the state of rock music, that in the year of 2012, the Foo Fighters are sweeping the rock Grammys and acting like they are reinventing the genre? You would think it was watching the Grammys.
Right: Kudos to the Recording Academy for acting fast and putting together a tribute for Whitney Houston done by another big-voiced singer, Jennifer Hudson. Live legend Springsteen also opened the Grammys for opening with his E Street Band, though minus legendary rock saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died this past year. Mini-performances by Civil Wars and Stevie Wonder were also better than most if not all of the full performances.
Wrong: If you opted for watching Walking Dead instead of the Grammys, you saw by no means the most horrifying bit of television on the night. Leave that up to Nicki Minnaj, who put on a lowest-common-denominator performance full of religious shock value summoning The Exorcist. I actually think Nicki Minnaj is highly talented and essentially a character actor in rap, but her performance brought a very disturbing moment in an otherwise very tame night.
THE BIG FOUR
Right: The four most envied and contested categories with the Grammys are Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Of these, the super-talented and super-British Adele swept the three of these Grammys she was nominated for (Song, Record, and Album of the Year) plus was 6 for 6 for awards on the night. She was no doubt the biggest winner of the night. They also awarded the Best New Artist to Bon Iver, which was clearly the best candidate, who delivered the most genuine speech of the night.
Wrong: So they got all four of these awards right, but what about the Best New Artist category in general? It was Bon Iver’s second album (his first in 2008) and it strikes me as just plain silly for someone to win a new artist award just because they became commercially successful in a given year. You can tell Justin Vernon felt the same, and voiced how unimportant the award was calling it just a “sweet hookup”. Vernon instead used the space to recognize all the bands that would never see this stage, but have inspired him invaluably nonetheless.
^Bon Iver’s Acceptance Speech
Right: While LL Cool J hosting the Grammys evoked a “Really?” reaction out of me, he was surprisingly poignant to open the show with a prayer and some kind words in regards to Whitney Houston’s passing. Also, Superbowl champion receiver Victor Cruz doing the salsa never hurt anybody either.
Wrong: The simple fact that Lady Gaga got shown on screen was a crime, as it literally looked like she was choking under fishnets. I know being a pop star often means you are a fashion innovator, but being artistic and a nut job doesn’t have to be totally synonymous. Also, when some of your presenters are Reba McIntyre, Marc Anthony, and that goth chick from NCIS, you are pretty out of touch.
Finally, I understand that newer music doesn’t have the recognition of older established acts, but how dated are the Grammy awards and its performers? I see this as being partially due to the Grammys airing on CBS, the major network with the oldest demographic pairing with music, the art form with notably the youngest. This will never make sense to me, and is part of the reason the Grammys will always feel irrelevant. The awards atrocities date back to the sixties when one of the bands they celebrated this year, The Beach Boys, got hosed alongside the Beatles and other great sixties rock groups for Best Rock song by a very square novelty song called “Winchester Cathedral”, in 1967, arguably the biggest and most important year in rock history. While it is great that they are recognizing classic artists now, the supposedly premiere Recording Academy is consistently late to the party on acts.
The show did close on a fine palette cleanser to wash off the filth of Katy Perry and Nicki Minnaj by having Springsteen and Grohl join in with McCartney, whose aged quite nobly, for a good old-fashioned rock medley of Abbey Road tunes. But even with a strong finish, and getting the major four awards correct, the Grammys will probably never be quality TV, but they sure are still fun to watch and entertaining to talk about, as long as people like Nicki Minnaj levitates and Lady Gaga dresses with some random inanimate object.
For my full recap, check it out RELEVANT.