As I’ve often alluded before, you needn’t look further than the Best Alternative category to surmise exactly how out of touch the Grammys are. Alternative, as a genre-defining adjective, hasn’t been relevant since the days of Manic Panic and post-pubescent boys stealing away with their sisters’ Delia’s catalogs to order fake vintage ringer tees. Yet here we are, in 2018, lauding a handful of albums that have been described by the industry as alternative.
Alternative to what, I wonder? Because at least three of this year’s nominees have all headlined shows at Madison Square Garden and/or the Hollywood Bowl.
To rely on this night of record industry self-fellatio as anything resembling an arbiter of what’s worthy and, more importantly what’s special, would be akin to trusting that Simon Cowell can surmise the worth of a singer within three unaccompanied bars in a vacant hotel conference room. It’s all for show.
It’s not about music, it’s not about taking chances, and it sure as fuck is not about the quality of art. It’s about the most famous and commercially viable amongst us patting each other on the back for work that will, in most cases, very soon be forgotten.
No doubt some people who walk across the stage to accept their Grammy will have profound musical and cultural impact. Kendrick Lamar immediately jumps to mind. He is arguably as important a voice music has right now.
But in the scope of the Grammys, we can’t talk about Kendrick without discussing the fact that “Despacito” is honored with a Song Of The Year nomination. Should the six writers of …
Wait a fucking second… SIX?! It took SIX FUCKING PEOPLE TO WRITE DESPACITO?! Jesus.
Anyway, should the six writers of “Despacito” hear their names called on Grammy night, they’ll join a truly rarified and unique club with past Song Of The Year winners like John Mayer’s “Daughters,” fun.’s “We Are Young,” The Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready To Make Nice,” Santana’s “Smooth,” Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home,” and Bette Midler’s 1990-91 one-two punch of “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “From A Distance.”
That’s not to say that those songs are without merit (though most of them are. Except for “Smooth.” That song rules.) as much as it is to say that I can guarantee you can find at least half a dozen songs from each of those select years that have had more of a cultural impact over time than those songs of the year. Hindsight of course is twenty-twenty. But good luck convincing anyone that they knew in the moment John Mayer was singing the song with which we would long associate 2005.
Before going any further, I must give the Grammys some due. For the first time in as long as I can remember, the nominees do include what can best be described as chances. Artists like Rhapsody, Sylvan Esso and The War On Drugs are being recognized with nominations
But for every Code Orange nod, there are handfuls of annual Grammy standbys the likes of Coldplay, Mastadon and Ed fucking Sheeran.
(And let the record state that I love Mastadon. But can we please fill the Grammy voters in on the fact that there are a few more metal bands out there beyond them and Metallica?)
I’ve written before about the absurdity of quantifying art and about how categorically impossible it is to determine that a song or record, performance or recording is the best. But where the grey area lies with the Grammys is that often the award process is about money rather than merit.
There is an entire sub-sub-industry of lecherous hangers-on whose job it is to lobby Grammy voters on behalf of whichever label is paying them. Ads are taken out in trade rags, billboards are erected in the entertainment capitals, and plenty of Grammy voters are treated to plenty of high-end dinners on account of netting Grammy votes. Often, that money goes out the window, as only one winner is determined in each category. It’s a boom or bust proposition for the label or artist. But can be a windfall for the aforementioned lecherous hangers-on.
But don’t misquote me. This is not to say that you can buy a Grammy. You can’t. But you can certainly increase your chances of taking one home by spending a whole lot of money.
So if you watch the Grammys on Sunday (please don’t), all I can say is just remember that while Meghan Trainor has, thanks to a kitschy viral bullshit hit, a Grammy on her mantle, Nas, for all the cultural cache and paradigm shifting impact he is responsible for, does not.
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