I predicted that Beck would win the Grammy for Album of the Year. This happened in a meeting last week when I first learned the nominees for the award. That I did this without having heard the album Beck was nominated for says a lot about how utterly stupid and meaningless the Grammys are, and always have been.
I’m old. Not old for this earth, but for this club of people who care about new music. And I don’t wanna come off cranky or “I told you so”-ish, but I gotta ask the assembled young folk: Why on earth do you put so much stock in these stupid awards?
I know social media can make even the most vapid shit (sorta) fun, and Twitter can make just about anything on TV worth watching, but I’m legit curious about the exact moment when the Grammys became something that anyone with functioning ears and half a brain paid any serious attention to, because—wait for it—BACK IN MY DAY, people who were halfway serious about music didn’t even watch the Grammys.
Stunning, right? Here’s why, as pulled directly from the New York Times’ coverage of the 1992 Grammy nominations:
“As has often occurred with the Grammy Awards, hugely popular music that appeals primarily to younger audiences, including best-selling albums by Guns ‘n’ Roses, Public Enemy, Metallica, and Nirvana, was relegated to separate categories, such as hard rock, rap, heavy metal, and alternative music.”
Those youth-oriented best-selling albums? Use Your Illusion I/II, Apocalypse ‘91…The Empire Strikes Black, Metallica, and some little piece of flash-in-the-pan bubblegum pop called Nevermind.
Forget for a moment the botched-lobotomy-level intellectual vigor that went into the creation of the Grammys “Alternative” category (alternative to what? R.E.M.’s Out of Time won the award the same year Nevermind was nominated, which would seem odd since R.E.M. was nominated for Album of the Year as well). Consider the self-ethering instinct that would cause an institution focused on contemporary music to create niche categories in order to accommodate “hugely popular music that appeals primarily to younger audiences.” It’s essentially an admission of irrelevancy.
But—again—pointing this out is nothing new: Just some old dude telling young people to ignore other (mostly) old dudes. Except that last night, there was a hitch, one that makes this worth pointing out this year:
Kanye fucked up last night.
Not with the fake-rushing-the-stage thing (that was awesome). He didn’t even fuck up with the moment where he told Beck to give his award to Beyoncé (that’s just riding for your friend). No: It was the moment Kanye told the world that Beck should “respect artistry.” Anyone who cares about music and art should be appalled and saddened at this.
I’m not gonna defend Beck’s artistry here (full disclosure: I love Beck, but I haven’t listened to anything by him since Sea Change). And let’s give Kanye the benefit of the doubt: He was speaking on live TV, and if given the chance to more fully consider his words, he probably wouldn’t have made the issue sound quite as much about Beck versus Beyoncé as he did (he seems to be saying as much right here).
But therein lies the problem: Kanye West is the most important working musician today, and yet, he’s let the tastes of people in something called the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences vex him so much that he’d throw a fellow artist under the bus for all the world to see.
The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences shouldn’t have that power. The only reason they do is because otherwise smart people actually think they mean something—they’re putting stock in these awards that don’t deserve much, and for what? If you think Beyoncé getting snubbed for an award somehow diminishes her artistry, then you don’t get it. By all means, enjoy the Grammys! The memes! The sneakers! Jay Z’s horrified dad face! Just remember: It’s all spectacle, and no substance (or, to quote Brother Numpsa writing about a similarly meaningless Sunday night exercise, they’re trash).
Now, which other old heads want to check out a rap battle?