Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

My Thoughts on the Grammys

December 4, 2009

This year, Beyoncé Knowles (formerly of the now disbanded Destiny’s Child), Lady GaGa, the Black Eyed Peas, the Kings of Leon, and Taylor Swift dominate the 52nd Annual Grammy Nominations List. Fan favorite Beyoncé leads the pack with 10 nominations, among them Album of the Year (I Am…Sasha Fierce), Song of the Year (“Single Ladies”), and Record of the Year (“Halo”). Ms. Swift has 8 nods; her album Fearless is also nominated for Album of the Year. How do you think I feel about these nominations?

To be honest, my feelings are fairly in-between.

Don’t get me wrong…I don’t have anything against people getting nominated for and winning Grammys. However, I truly feel that the Grammys do everything in their power to reward numerical or commercial achievements and not as much, with some exceptions, to bring artistic achievements to the public’s attention. Awards ceremonies like the American Music Awards and even the World Music Awards act the same way, but at least the World Music Awards honor some artists that are better than a lot of mainstream America’s artists (at least since the teen pop resurgence of 1996-97). There’s nothing wrong with having a #1 album or single, but I’ve read about several musical artists that made wonderfully experimental and popular albums that didn’t even earn one Grammy nomination for the respective band or artist, let alone win one. (I won’t bring up categories like jazz, Latin jazz, classical, etc., as they have nothing to do with this.)

One of the most obvious examples of an album and artist that won critical and public success and yet didn’t win a Grammy is the British rock group Pink Floyd, with their 1973 masterwork, Dark Side of the Moon. Ranked as the second best album of all time on the Definitive 200 Albums List after Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the incomparable Beatles (which deserved the four wins out of the seven Grammy nominations it had in 1968), Dark Side of the Moon has a string of complex rhythms and mystical ambient sounds that might have not sit well with most listeners, but amazed me after the first listen (and that coming from a woman who listens to genres like Latin jazz, easy listening, regular jazz, some popular music, a good deal of New Age and world music, and Motown R&B, but not teenybopper music)! It topped the Billboard 200 Album Chart and has since sold 15 million copies in the United States alone, but Pink Floyd didn’t win a Grammy until 1995, for the song ‘Marooned’ from the Division Bell album.

Bob Marley had a great range of reggae songs with political and inspirational messages, and yet his music didn’t win him a Grammy in his lifetime. He posthumously earned a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 and was inducted into the 2007 Grammy Hall of Fame. (This doesn’t mean that Billy Joel and the Carpenters neccessarily sucked, which they don’t.) Marvin Gaye didn’t earn a Grammy for songs like “Let’s Get It On,” “Mercy Mercy Me,” and my personal favorite: “What’s Going On.” However, he won two Grammys for “Sexual Healing” in 1982 and a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award years later. Elvis Presley? I love his rock and roll music to death, and yet he won four Grammys: three for his later religious-themed material, and the Lifetime Achievement Award.Santana won only one Grammy before he signed to Arista Records from Sony/Columbia in the late 1990s. That was a Grammy Hall of Fame entry for the Abraxas album. After signing with Arista, Santana won 8 out of a then record-breaking total of Grammys for the album Supernatural, the same amount that Michael Jackson’s Thriller won in 1984. (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2 tied Santana’s Grammy record several years later.) And Supernatural was the most popular album released in 1999. There’s nothing wrong with changing styles, and this does not mean that Supernatural was necessarily a bad album per se, but Santana’s funkier 1960s-70s music, which explored Afro-Cuban and other global cultures, didn’t win him even one Grammy!

Tupac and the Who also never earned any Grammys (though the Who actually did earn only the Lifetime Achievement Award, just like Led Zeppelin did). Nor have Queen or Grateful Dead (and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is probably the best rock song I’ve ever heard). And there are plenty more artists who either don’t win Grammys until late in their career, if at all, or whose music and talent often went and continue to go overlooked and underrated by the National Recording Academy of Arts and Sciences (NARAS). (Don’t get me started on people like 50 Cent, NSYNC, Jennifer “J. Lo” Lopez, Miley Cyrus, the Backstreet Boys, or ESPECIALLY Justin Bieber, because they’re among the exceptions to the rule.) If lucky, some or even most of those artists that won either one or no Grammys will get the aforementioned Lifetime Achievement Award…a much higher honor than all the other nominated categories put together.

Some unique artists like Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder, and Simon & Garfunkel won Grammys for their work, but music like those artists put out exemplify the kind of artistry that far surpasses the commercial appeal that past Grammy winners such as Britney Spears, Shania Twain, Shakira, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Milli Vanilli and the like have provided (no disrespect to them and their fans). Especially Stevie Wonder’s lyrics continue to inspire generations of music fans. Milli Vanilli were bereft of their Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1991 after their then producer, Frank Farian, revealed that they only appeared as posers for their Girl You Know It’s True album and didn’t actually sing the songs on it. Well, at least the Grammys did the right thing in taking back an award they gave to the wrong band.

At any rate, all the best to Beyoncé and the Black Eyed Peas and all the other Grammy nominees. Maybe someday the Grammys will devote some attention to artistic achievements and not just how many copies an artist has sold, or how long so-and-so spent on X, Y, and Z music charts in fill-in-the-blank territory, or anything like that. In short: If the Grammys were to reward artistic achievements in music instead of just commercial success, I bet few people would listen. Finally, in the words of the legendary 11x-Grammy winner Frank Sinatra:

“Remember, ladies and gentlemen: It’s about excellence, not popularity.”