I want bands I like to stop winning awards

Editor’s note, this unnecessary rant is loosely based on another unnecessary rant that was originally published in a comment thread on Facebook, so take that for what it’s worth.

It’s pretty much impossible to stay mad at Kanye West.

He came out in a radio interview earlier today (with the TRL guy) and apologized for his “Beck doesn’t understand art” nonsense. Then announced he’s making music with Taylor Swift and suddenly a  genuine “no harm no foul” washed over  me and probably a lot of other Beck fans.

But to be honest, I wasn’t ever that upset with the Kanye stuff. Kanye says strange things all the time and everyone knows it. Sometimes his crazy makes sense to me, sometimes it doesn’t. I like his music so as long as he keeps doing that and not doing things that are legitimately terrible (disagreeing with my musical tastes is not terrible in the real world) I don’t really care.

It’s the millennial media machine that got me all fired up and convinced to go on a Twitter rant after not even watching — or even paying attention to, really — The Grammys. It’s no harm no foul for Kanye to do something rude at an awards show because it happens all the time and he admits that he just can’t help himself. But when suddenly all the hip young Hot Take writers start spewing out nonsense like “Kanye Was Right: Beyoncé Was Robbed at the Grammys,” it puts me on edge.

Bleche. Stuff like “Beyoncé’s Unbelievable Snub for Best Album Proves the Grammys Isn’t Really About the Music,” which makes total sense because Beck doesn’t make music he makes macaroni art.

What drove (drives) me crazy about this is not that people disagree with me. It’s all the folks that think there is something objectively “right” about thinking Beck winning was some sort of giant loss for mass American culture. I’m not surprised at all that there are a ton of people in this world that like Beyonce more than Beck. I am surprised that there were writers who didn’t think to Google “Beck” before writing absurd screeds against one of the most inventive musicians of the past couple decades.

I don’t have anything against Beyonce (well, I guess I kind of do because I think the hype that surrounds her is really strange) and frankly I wouldn’t have cared if she won Album of the Year.

You know why I wouldn’t have cared? Because I don’t actually care about the Grammys. I used to read about them the Monday morning after in The Oregonian growing up, so I guess that means I was interested. But I’ve never actually watched them. I’ve never ran out to buy a an album because I heard that it won Album of the Year. I was excited when Arcade Fire won, because like most people I like hearing good news about bands I like. But I really wouldn’t have cared if they had lost. For as much as I like movies, I’ve never actually cared much about the Academy Awards either.

[Side: I’m pretty sure I’ve only watched the AAs once, when everyone knew that Martin Scorsese was going to win for The Departed, because I was weirdly obsessed with The Aviator and The King of Comedy when I was in high school and I cared about him winning for some reason. I still follow the AAs, mostly out of curiosity, but I think it’s safe to say that I (and most movie people for that matter) don’t actually form their opinions based on who wins Best Picture. In other words, if Boyhood wins Best Picture this year, it won’t stop me from thinking Selma was better.]

So why? Why do people suddenly care about the Grammys? And why must they ruin things? The Grammys have always been a place for old industry insiders to pat their buddies on the back and reward their favorite music. You know which musicians have won Album of the year the most? Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra. Besides the fact that I think Paul Simon is my favorite everything, that doesn’t reflect the average musical opinion, and it certainly doesn’t reflect critical consensus, which I’m sure  would mostly be full of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and a bunch of other people from the late 60s and 70s. Maybe Radiohead too.

Also, Beyonce’s album did well critically, but not that well (it barely breaks the top 25 in Metacritic’s aggregator that ranks albums according to how many top 10 lists it appeared on) and it sold a lot of records, but not as many as Taylor Swift (like, T-Swift’s album has almost caught up to Bey’s in sales even though it came out like a year later).

So it kinda feels like people are saying “a lot of people on my twitter feed really like Beyonce so she should have won.” Beck’s album was perfect for what it was, and he has won a lot less grammy’s than Beyonce, and indie alternative music is just as traditionally overlooked as hip-hop or dance-pop (R&B however, has a long storied history of coming out on top for Album of the Year, but granted that’s mostly just because of Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones which was a long time ago). Before Arcade Fire won, the only alternative album to win in that category was, like, Alanis Morissette if that even counts. So no, Beck’s win is not just business as usual.

I know that people are saying that this all reflects a wider issue of indifference toward black music, which there’s a pretty solid case for lately. In recent years the Grammys have gotten very white. But that hasn’t always been the case, and Beyonce wouldn’t have actually broken any boundaries, not to say that boundary breaking is the only important metric for diversity. But I guess what I’m saying is this isn’t The Academy awards, where a black woman has never even been nominated for best director and only one woman (to my knowledge) has ever won best director.

From what I can tell, the Grammys have a more up-and-down history with race. It’s definitely on a down beat, and that’s certainly worth being annoyed at. I think my knee jerk reaction against the pieces focusing on race came mostly from the fact that if you ask me to name some Grammy winners, the people that come to mind fastest for me (besides Paul Simon) are Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill. Michael Jackson because I had an edition of Thriller that had a little Grammy logo on the cover, Lauryn Hill because when I watched some documentary about her and the Fugees on VH1 like 10 years ago it talked about her Grammy win a lot, and Whitney Houston because she seems like the kind of person who would have won at least one Album of the Year and when I looked it up I was right.

But, again, if Lauryn Hill had never won a Grammy for The Miseducation, I would still love that album. I love that album because it’s great. Not because of a Grammy.

This just reminds me of how everyone flipped out because Arcade Fire beat out Lady Gaga that one year. Which is why I just wish bands that I like would stop winning prominent awards like this, because then I have to read patronizing explainers about how albums I love aren’t actually that good.

Side note: The Suburbs isn’t Arcade Fire’s best album, in my opinion (that’s probably Neon Bible). Despite the fact that they’re my favorite band, it wasn’t even my favorite album released in 2011. That would be High Violet by The National which was not nominated for Album of the Year and I really didn’t care. 

I don’t know when people starting thinking the Grammys were basically the MTV Music awards. Like, who watches the Grammys? I’ve never watch the Grammys. Not in my 20 some-odd years of life. What people don’t get is that comedy albums and soundtracks have won a bunch in the past, because why not. It’s a bunch of industry insiders who vote and say “hey, I liked this album” and it doesn’t now, nor will it ever, actually reflect pop culture as a whole. Awards shows don’t actually do that.

Do you know who won Album of the Year in 1998? Not Radiohead for OK Computer (a fact that was left off this awful list). No, it was some Bob Dylan album that no one really talks about anymore. It might be a good album. I don’t know, I haven’t ever listened to it. Whatever it was, the old people that vote in the Grammys sure did like it. Did Radiohead fans actually care? Maybe, but probably not that much, since I bet they were far too busy just listening to the album and getting lost in their own feelings of alienation.

The Grammys are basically the adult contemporary awards, which is why Stevie Wonder was winning in the 70s and not the bands that were being more innovative.

Unless we start giving a ton of credence to the validity of the People’s choice awards, which no one will ever do because awful musicians who just sell a lot of records always win them, there will never a major awards show that accurately reflects what’s really going on in music artistically. I think that’s why the Grammys try be all diplomatic about it. Select an album that is popular with critics but also not so obscure that Justine Beiber fans will actually riot or something. So that’s why The War on Drugs wasn’t even nominated this year for Best Album despite the accolades he received, and neither was Iggy Azaelia for her record sales. I guess.

It seems to me that Beyonce’s album will very clearly go down as an important pop album. I’ve listened to it a couple times and I don’t care for it, but I also know that I’m not the intended audience and even if I were it’s not about whether or not one person likes or dislikes these things. She’s a cultural force and that’s that.

I like pop music but Bey’s never really done it for me. I like some of that Sasha Fierce stuff and I like the song Pretty Hurts off the album in question (but it does make me queasy to hear the words “Perfection is a disease of a nation” sung with earnestness by someone who has built an entire rabid industry based on the idea that everything from her body to her family is #flawless, which also happens to be the name of a particularly awful song on the album).

 

Comparing apples to apples is also not fair, since the two albums were so different. A lot of people have talked about how Beyonce’s album had about 1,000,000 writing credits on it and so her album wasn’t as good. I don’t totally think that’s fair. I do think comparing it to Beck’s solitary writing credit for his album is fair to show that he’s a musical genius, but I don’t think anyone is really arguing Beyonce is a musical genius. The title is Album of the Year, not Songwriter of the Year, so whether or not the album was a collaborative effort I think is kind of irrelevant.

Which brings up another point, and that is that the worlds of alternative music and pop are pretty freaking different. Pop is by its nature collaborative in ways that alternative just ins’t. The alternative music scene typically values (what they perceive to be) authenticity and intimacy in a way that pop doesn’t even really strive for. Despite some weak-sauce efforts by people like Beyonce and Katy Perry and Britney (Brittany) Spears, intimacy in mainstream pop music always feels, well, inauthentic. So that’s why it makes sense that instead of striving for that, Beyonce and Lady Gaga and pretty much all pop stars (Bruce Springsteen included) create very distinct, larger than life personas.

That’s why it annoys me so much when I read people, fans even, that say Beck’s album was boring, or a “fine if somewhat dour record,” or, my personal favorite, a “midlife chill-out record,” so it didn’t deserve to win. I don’t want to get all dumb and pretentious, but I don’t find symphonic and immersive to be boring.

Yes, it’s the spiritual brother of Sea Change, which is also a great album, but I think it’s better than Sea Change. So that argument falls really flat to me and I want to yell at it. This album took Beck like a decade to make (with some starts and stops in there) and every review I’ve ever read of it took special notice of how immaculate the production is. So I’m sorry he didn’t produce thumping club beats, but he kind of conquered that already.

So what I’m really saying is, I don’t get this Beyonce stuff, but I’m fine with it. What I’m not fine with is that the notion that Beck was an undeserving winner was given legitimacy by organizations that try to take themselves seriously. Or at least I think they do.

I see that there’s already been plenty of correction on this point, but still, it hurt at the time.

Also, can we talk about how there are a lot of other black female artists who get snubbed all the time and they are far more talented and interesting than Beyonce (Lets be real, I’m talking about Janel Monae here, who I think will be remembered much more fondly in the archives of American music than Beyonce) so why don’t we all freak out about that? You know why? Because Buzzfeed didn’t randomly deem Monae a Queen and she’s not BFF’s with Kanye West. That’s probably why.

St. Vincent is basically revolutionizing music and everyone is talking about her all the time, and her album is amazing and the best she got was “Best Alternative Album” so WHY CAN’T Vox FREAK OUT ABOUT THAT?!?!?!

In summary, Beck made an amazing album that I just want to enjoy without major media outlets complaining about it. I think the worst part about all this is how much emotion I’ve been forced to feel about an awards show that no one I’m aware of actual cares anything about.

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JJ Feinauer

JJ writes stuff occasionally.

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