Suburbgate: How the Grammys Manage to Piss off Everyone

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“You can’t please all the people all the time, and last night, all those people were at my show.”

-M. Hedburg

Somehow, the Recording Academy has found a way to do the impossible —  to disenfranchise the entire viewing audience.  While some award shows (and cultural tastes in general) will polarize one group or another, it’s a rare event to see an award show able to generate universal loathing from nearly all demographics but for different reasons…

Culprit A: The nominees.  Always, ALWAYS confusing, but everyone that has ever followed the Grammys know that the award recipients are usually undeserving and ultimately irrelevant, so big whup.  The larger Grammy sin is that if the artist is, indeed, deserving of some sort of recognition they’re always too little, too late.   Case in point.. yesterday was Dr. Dre (relevance = -12 years), and Mick Jagger’s (relevance = -3 decades) FIRST ever appearances on the program. FIRST E-V-E-R.

Radiohead feigns enjoyment with the USC Marching Band

Exhibit B: The awkward, forced collaborations; an increasingly popular thing for the Recording Academy to try.  Mix an artist one group of people like with an artist that an entirely other group of people may like — put them together, and neither care.

Exhibit C: Obscure, dated, and/or demented qualifying rules for nominees.  Can anyone tell me the difference between Best Song, Best Record, and Best Album? It seems like there’s some redundancy here.  It’s like dual Oscars for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.  Even more silly are the Grammy guidelines for Best New Artist:  “…For a new artist who releases, during the Eligibility Year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist.”  Meaning… you can be eight albums into your recording career and still be nominated for best new artist.  In plain speak, if The Recording Academy (or, say, your parents) don’t know who the band is, they’re new.   This guideline is increasingly hilarious in the modern age.

Exhibit D: The “make-up” picks.  Grammys tend to be late to the party, and instead of risk giving awards to relevant current artists, they tend to hand out trophies to old safe ones, or  artists that probably should’ve won years (and in some case decades) before and are now irrelevant.  Case in point:

Eric Clapton

  • Number of Grammys won by Eric Clapton 1963-1991: 1.
  • Number of Grammys won by Eric Clapton 1992 – 2011: 10.

Bob Dylan

  • Number of Grammys won by Bob Dylan1960-1988: 2.
  • Number of Grammys won by Bob Dylan1989 – 2011: 9.

Neil Young

  • Number of Grammys won by Neil Young 1966-2010: 0.
  • Number of Grammys won by Neil Young 2011: 1.

Now.  In which era were any of these artists more prolific, interesting, inventive, innovative, inspirational?  In which were they deemed safe for mass consumption.  The tardiness  isn’t always this glaring.  For example, Outkast’s fairly-recent Speakerboxxx/The Love Below win.  Outkast’s previous work —  Aquemini and Stankonia are far superior to the bloated, directionless double LP that eventually won them some hardware.  What their previous two records lacked, however, was a crowd-pleasing safe-for-America track like “Hey Ya,” a track that finally won them favor with ‘Merica because it didn’t sound like hip hop.

Exhibit E: “Shrug” picks. The most hilarious of the items that anger Grammy watchers, and quite possibly a sign that Grammy voters may be getting bored of their own choices are “The Shrug Picks”.  “…Annnnnnd the award goes to… um, The Arcade Fire… I dunno.”  — or — “And the winner is, er, O Brother Where Art Though?, sure, why not?”

The Dixie Chicks get persecuted for writing inoffensive country pop — the Recording Academy gives ’em some hardware. The Academy can’t choose between those no-good youngsters in 2001 —  Beck (Midnite Vultures), Eminem (Marshall Mathers LP), Radiohead (Kid A)… so they go with ummmm Steely Dan?  In 1988, confused about this new-fangled “Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal” which includes AC/DC, Metallica, Jane’s Addiction, and Iggy Pop as nominees, the Academy goes with that band with the flute.  In making these strange choices — either creating a list of varied nominees only to play it safe, or grouping a strong list of artist only to pick a darkhorse, the Grammys aggravate everyone.  It’s a true identity crisis.

The issue underlying all of this is The Academy’s refusal to get off the fence. Either admit it’s a preselected shit-show, a-la The People’s Choice awards or the VMA’s; or take yourself seriously, develop clear award guidelines and reward rational (if unpopular) nominees.  The latter risks disenfranchising the masses that tune in to look at outfits, but in the process legitimatizes the actual award.  They really have two ways to stay relevant: start being agreeable or start getting opinionated — it’s obvious they can’t do both.

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