The Grammys: Fifty Years of What Exactly

I had to settle down a bit and let some of the steam off so I apologize for un-blogger like nature of this unprompt post. I have a good reason, though. It’s taken nearly a week to let what I saw happen (or didn’t in this case) during the Grammys settle in my head so I could make at least some sense of what I watched for yet another mostly insignificant, boring and bloated three and a half hours.

Let’s start outside the Staple Center with what took place on the My Grammy Moment stage. Having three young musicians compete for the chance to play the string part of the Foo Fighters “The Pretender” was absolutely terrible. If this is the Academy’s way of “looking forward” into music’s future then the Academy needs to get to the nearest pop music eye doctor (hopefully one that treats sonic myopia) because their eyes are so dry, crusty and degenerate that they’ve gone so far as to cast yet another fabricated image of a legend (Frank Sinatra with Alicia Keys here in 2008) in hopes of cleverly celebrating music’s past, present and future. If it was 1992 and Dave Grohl was drumming behind Kurt Cobain then maybe the Grammys might be cutting edge. But then it wouldn’t be the Grammys who in 1992 didn’t recognize Nevermind when it was released.

Music’s present? The Foo Fighters? They’ve made the same record over and over again and there are a dozen other bands that could better fill the role and shine on the Grammy center stage as music’s present and future. And since were talking about the Foo Fighters I have to say it was a complete travesty that Wilco had to lose to Dave Grohl. Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky album and front man Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting is as cutting edge and generation defining as you can get. If the Academy was so concerned about looking to the future maybe they should’ve given best Rock Album to Wilco had them play and not to Dave Grohl.

Even if he does suffer from a mega-bloated ego, I do have to credit rapper/producer Kanye West and robot-housers Daft Punk for the giving both hip hop and French-house a supreme showing via “Stronger.” But it was West’s fashionable (with “MAMA” shaved into his hair) and gritty performance of a lyrically remixed “Hey Mama” in light of his mother’s death that brought much needed raw and anxious emotion to the Grammys. Graduation was the next logical step in West’s career but not the best of 2007. But, at least, the Grammys are somewhat hip to understanding current hip hop with giving nomination to Common’s last two albums and deft at displaying their enabling skills and desire to avoid any potential meltdowns by giving Best Rap Album to one of pop music’s biggest stars. And of course it wouldn’t be the Grammys or a true West acceptance speech without the usual dose of narcissism and ego as West stopped the band from cutting him off, “ it’d be in good taste to stop the music….” And we can all thank Vince Gill for saying what we all wanted to say who after he was handed his Best Country Album by Ringo Star and saidm looking at a seated West, “Wow…I just had my award handed to me by a Beatle….have you had that happen to you Kanye?”

For three whole minutes I actually enjoyed the Grammys and developed a knew appreciation for Tina Turner as she upstaged Beyonce and every last inched of her over-hyped booty. I hope Beyone was taking notes on how to sign and perform with true soul and not just hollow flashy bling and sex appeal. And a few days later Beyonce received much understood flack from the real “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin for putting soul’s crown on the wrong head.

Tabloid exploits sell records. And according to the Academy also aide in getting the most votes for Album of the Year, too. It was Amy Winehouse via sataliite (because of visa restrictions) from London nightclub who with her sassy grins and insinuating inflections during both songs, especially “Rehab,” made the Grammys somewhat entertaining. After Best Album was announced she hugged her band, thanked her parents and gave a shout out to her Blake in prison and seemed so shocked to have won. I guess she doesn’t read her own tabloids and leaves the reading (and the voting) up to the Academy.

For some reason I remember the Grammy’s being more fun to watch, more cutting edge. As a fan looking for inspiration from the Grammys I tend to relate with DJ Shadow and Mix Master Mike who in the Turntablist documentary Scratch site the genesis of their inspiration to seeing the scratching Herbie Hancock’s 1984 Grammy performance of “Rocket.” Maybe some youngster was inspired by West and Daft Punk and I know my disdain is not because I’ve gotten older but mainly because the Grammy have shown for several years how they hold an unnessary and unworthy amount of weight in determining what current music is important and where music is headed. This truth is that the Grammys are getting less and less significant in determining what music is important and why and here in the 21st century music is made and distributed and consumed by more fans than ever in the history of music so it should be no surprise that an event like the Grammy’s wouldn’t hold as much weight as it once did. For the last few years the independent Plug Awards have been celebrating independent music, and its many subgenres, and more accurately points to where music is and where it’s heading. When the Grammys started out back in 1958 nobody thought or intended it to grow to what it is today. And it appears the pull that the Grammys have had over the last fifty years, like the major labels, has started to lessen and their grip on the future of the industry is more fragmented than the Academy might like to admit. Time will certainly tell if this is true but all I know is that, aside from a West’s and Turner’s performance, I spent most of the time squinting towards the bottom of the screen to see the scrolling list of artists (Chemical Brothers, Lupe Fiasco, among others…) who won awards but weren’t invited to play or appear during the big show. That’s the award show I would’ve like to watch but they don’t televise those awards.

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