Sunday, February 12th of this fine year (2017) held the 59th annual American Grammy Awards ceremony. Self-proclaimed as each year's "biggest night in music", the awards show featured some fantastic performances by the likes of Metallica/Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, A Tribe Called Quest (& friends), Katy Perry/Skip (grandson of Bob) Marley and several others. If you haven't checked out the performances of this year's spectacle, I highly recommend at least going to check out a few.
Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the winners in contrast to the choices laid out by the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) voting board. Adele dominated every category she was nominated for, Chance The Rapper won Best New Artist AND best Rap Album, making Coloring Book the first free mixtape to both be nominated for and win a Grammy. David Bowie received some post-humous love and even meme-of-the-decade "Hotline Bling" took some awards away. It was a little bitter to see Megadeth and Cage The Elephant overshadow some of the talent they were up against, but I digress. As much as I love douche-ily voicing my opinion on the Internet, I actually wanted to take this article as a chance to divulge the inner workings of the Grammy Awards, along the way highlighting some flaws in the process as well as acknowledging the immense amount of gratitude we owe the ceremony for it's contributions to the medium.
The "Gramophone Awards" (as they were originally called) were derived out of the Walk of Fame project on Hollywood Boulevard back in the 1950's. The recording executives in charge of assigning sidewalk stars to icons in the music realm felt that a few names on concrete vastly understated the amount of talent that was constantly popping up in the music industry. Some of these executives got together to create the Grammys we know and...have varying emotions towards. The first ceremony was held simultaneously in two separate locations, while the event was televised live as early as 1971. The design for the actual trophy was revamped in 1990, leading to the development of a new alloy metal trademarked as Grammium. To this day, there have been nearly 8,000 Grammy Trophies awarded to artists.
Fun facts aside, there are inherent criticisms that come with any competitive art awards ceremony. Such talking topics include the legitimacy of evaluating a subjective product on a seemingly objective scale, as well as the fear of corruption within the voting committee. These kinds of umbrella-critiques will not be explored much in this article, although they are important to acknowledge when discussing artistic awards, especially those that are televised. That, I believe, is the primary short-coming of the Grammy Awards: the ceremony has become remarkably more important than the art that is being judged. And it's to be expected, in all honesty. The Grammys have consistently accrued over 17 million live viewers every year since 1979. The broadcast attained an all-time high of ~51 million viewers in 1984, the year that Michael Jackson's revolutionary LP, "Thriller", raked in a whopping 8 awards, a record that has since remained unbroken. In 2014, 30 seconds of Grammy ad time sold at an average of ~$800,000. The year after that: an average of ~$1,000,000/30s. The year after that: an average of ~$1,200,000/30s. See what I'm getting at here? By nature of featuring a performance art, the Grammys have always held their presentation of the ceremony in the highest regard. If NARAS doesn't feature pop-culture icons like Drake or Beyoncé on their broadcast, they lose the trust of their mainstream viewership and, ultimately, their primary source of revenue. This is a consistent root of controversy, causing some artists like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Maynard Keenan of Tool, and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver to denounce the ceremony even after having won awards. Further criticism was born out of the Academy's decision to cut the number of awards distributed from 109 to 78, combining awards such as Best Hard Rock Album and Best Metal Album, while all R&B sub-genre awards into Best R&B Album. Some categories were outright eliminated, including Best Classical Album and Best Rock Instrumental Performance (sorry, Tosin Abasi). While the current number of awards has grown to 84, there is a conjectured lack of consideration by the NARAS for artists in a medium that is perpetually diversifying and fragmenting into an unbelievable number of very unique sub-genres, some of which even have a major following. For example, contemporary emo (like Tiny Moving Parts and American Football) and progressive metal (like Protest The Hero and Meshuggah) both have undeniably large followings. The Grammy Awards hand out four (five if you count the Alternative award) trophies to all sub-genres of rock (being responsible for 30% of CD, Digital and Vinyl sales according to Nielsen Music), but also distribute five awards to all sub-genres of Jazz (responsible for just 2% of music sales). Granted, this is just a sales-based scale, but it really says a lot about how much rock music is being created in comparison to the amount of Jazz. This is not to say that Jazz should be marginalized or appreciated any less, but to highlight that five awards for the most over-saturated and fragmented genre in the world is just ludicrous.
Once upon a time, I would have quickly fallen into a red-pill catharsis by having an opportunity to publicly rant about the dark corruption behind the Grammy Awards. But I'm a changed man (I swear). What I've found is that it's incredibly easy to point out where the Grammys fall short, but so easy to forget what it truly means. We can't just gloss over that >17 million annual viewership as a sign of corrupted agenda; that's >17 million people who are interested enough in contemporary music to tune in live. To think that more than 50million people were invested enough in Michael Jackson's artistic recognition to watch him win 8 awards live is absolutely insane. The cold, hard truth is: music was meant to become commercial. Any successful art does to some degree. If you've read my recent write-up on ["pop music" with hyperlink to article embedded], then you should know my platform on the mainstream impacting artists. It's inevitable. It's something to be revered, even. If the mainstream is impacting an art form, you know that art form is alive and well in the world. Not to mention that Periphery, a contemporary progressive metal band, was nominated this year for best metal performance, while Chance The Rapper, the flagship artist for independent hip-hop, walked away with several awards as well as an shamelessly honest performance at the ceremony. Last year, Kendrick Lamar and Ghost won Best Rap Album and Best Metal Performance, respectively. This may be telling us that the "mainstream" audience has gotten too fragmented to appeal to with the run of the mill pop-culture icons in music. They're addressing revolutionary contemporary artists and giving credit where credit is due.
So, who cares if they have a bias? Winning a Grammy doesn't suddenly make anyone successful anyway. Music should be done out of passion, not for some piece of engraved metal. The mainstream favor in awards like these don't really do much for artist's career like an Oscar or Emmy would do for an actor. That's why some artists, like the ones I've mentioned above, can denounce the show and still sustain the following they've always had. The independent band model is more sustainable than it has ever been! Fear not the longevity of your favorite artist; they've gotten where they are because of their fans. Not from some award or advertisement or any other mainstream exposure. The bands we love will have a career in music for as long as we love them. So, I'll continue treating the Grammy Awards Ceremony for what it is: an entertaining series of ridiculously expensive performances by (usually) talented musicians with some breaks in between to hand out little statues.
Although, if they screw up James Hetfield's microphone next time, I can't say much for the longevity of the Academy members. James is not a docile soul.