The Corporate Landscape of the GRAMMY’S

Jackson Leeds

            Last Sunday evening, a talented group of musicians, songwriters, producers, managers and industry heads assembled in the Staples Center for an American tradition, informally known as the Grammys. As usual, the show completely sidestepped the prospect of honoring true musical talent and innovation, instead favoring music with commercial success and universal appeal.

            For example, in the Album of the Year category, Mumford & Sons won for their album “Babel.” I don’t really have anything against Mumford & Sons, but it is clear that they make music to cater to a wide audience, with little innovation or ingenuity in sight. When you look at the other projects that were in this category, such as Frank Ocean’s “CHANNEL: Orange,” Black Keys’s “El Camino” and Jack White’s “Blunderbuss,” it seems pretty hard to justify Mumford & Sons getting the nod. The only clear edge “Babel” has over the other nominees is record sales and it is clear that this is why they won. “CHANNEL: Orange” and “Blunderbuss” received superior reviews from virtually every possible source, but they lost out to a subpar record with astronomical sales. In many cases, artists with the most YouTube views, Spotify plays or iTunes sales also ended up winning a Grammy, which leads me to believe that voters favored artists that were creating the most capital.

            The category for Best Dance Record also had its own set of internal politics. The award went to Los Angeles producer Skrillex for his track “Bangarang.” I love the song, but it seems to be a terribly strange coincidence that Skrillex is the only United States-born artist in the category. The award should have gone to Swedish artist Avicii for his song “Levels,” seeing as it has a bit more than novelty on its side and is easily one of the more infectious, enjoyable songs of recent memory (until it became played out). Other European artists in this category, such as the group Swedish House Mafia and artist Calvin Harris, were snubbed as well. Perhaps Skrillex did have the best dance anthem of the past year, but these are all things to consider.

            The Best New Artist category was by far the most obvious voting flop of the entire show. Apparently, none of the voters listened to Frank Ocean’s album, seeing as that is the only logical reason an artist as derivative as Fun. would beat him out in this category. Fun. sounds like a mix of a bunch of different 90s pop bands, whereas Frank Ocean’s album was a completely original, socially relevant masterpiece that likely flew over the heads of those who voted. As I mentioned before, “CHANNEL: Orange” was considered to critically be one of the best albums of the year, whereas Fun. simply had more radio play and commercial success.

            I say this all with one key fact in mind: the Grammys was never about who made the “best” music or which song is most “artistic.” Those who desire such distinctions would be better off looking at sites like Pitchfork or Rolling Stone or even a site like Metacritic, which aggregates reviews from tons of sources into composite reviews. The Grammys is a celebration of music for capital gain; it exists to create positive publicity for the artists that are nominated, not to determine what is best.

            No Grammy Awards would be complete without performances; as usual, some were spectacular, with many being forgettable. A solid performance of “The Weight” in honor of late The Band drummer/singer Levon Helm featured Elton John, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, Mumford & Sons and Mavis Staples. The song also was dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Frank Ocean had a great performance, which used film techniques to create the illusion that he was running down a long road. Last but not least, I enjoyed the performance of the Black Keys. It was good to see them play “Lonely Boy,” considering they did not win as many awards as they could have.

            The Grammys is something that has to be taken at face value; if one expects to see something truly spectacular, they will be disappointed. It shows music as a force that brings people together, something I find quite beautiful, even if they don’t always get the winners right. It is here to stay, so we might as well try to enjoy it, even if it is not easy to do so.