Too many times this past year, I found myself singing along to “Thinkin Bout You” by Frank Ocean, who has the falsetto of an angel and songwriting prowess equal to the best ever in R&B. I was thinkin’ ‘bout how many Grammys he was probably going to win in 2013 because of channel ORANGE. Yet, come Sunday night, he took home only one, for the obscure category Best Urban Contemporary Album. Ocean was the undisputed champion of R&B last year, and frankly, of all music, and critics and writers all counted him as an easy win for many of the important categories, including Album of the Year and Song of the Year. But he lost. After this year’s Grammy Awards, I found myself unhappy yet again with the results.
Even still, I follow the Grammys religiously year after year, checking my phone every few seconds to see if my favorites won despite how little I care anymore (no awards for my man Jack White this year). Every year, people discuss “snubs” and every year the question arises yet again of the real meaning of the awards, if anything more substantive than a re-inflation of many popular artists’ egos. This year, in an attempt to make the event classier, the Grammys have instituted a dress code, but the song remains the same – the Grammy awards are irrelevant to music.
The 55th Annual broadcast had performances that would outdo any festival line-up, with Jack White, Frank Ocean, Mumford & Sons performing a Levon Helm tribute with Mavis Staples, Zac Brown and Brittany Howard (from Alabama Shakes), Bruno Mars with Rihanna and Sting, and comebacks from Justin Timberlake and Adele. But on a night where “Call Me Maybe” was non-ironically nominated for Song of the Year, there is little to be excited about. To give credit where credit is due, it’s a wonderful show – where else would you be able to see Jay-Z and Paul McCartney collaborating? – but winners and losers of the endless list of categories don’t matter. Sure, you could say that Arcade Fire’s Album of the Year win for The Suburbs in 2010 helped propel indie rock to a whole new level of popularity or that Frank Ocean’s nominations for the incredible channel ORANGE have done wonders for R&B, but who is to say that hasn’t already been happening naturally? Freddie Mercury, the most energetic frontman in rock history, never took home the award with Queen, and neither did guitar god Jimi Hendrix. Some of the most musically and culturally influential bands in music history have lost in the Grammys, one of the more notable instances being Steely Dan’s victory in 2001‘s Album of the Year over Radiohead’s Kid A and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP. When something as socially powerful as The Wall loses to Christopher Cross or when the Grammy selection committee continually denies a group as influential as Public Enemy any kind of recognition, you know there’s something more to the award selection process than just artistic merit.
The gold gramophone statuettes are merely objects that signify validation for these already popular artists in the industry, if not for their work of art, then for their commercial viability. The reason why Bon Iver (Best New Artist, 2011) and Esperanza Spalding (Best New Artist, 2010) shocked viewers was because of the fact that these lesser-known artists were not nearly as successful as their competition those nights, which included Drake, Justin Bieber and Florence + the Machine. This year people were complaining about snubs for One Direction and Justin Bieber, with the argument that in the last year they had high-charting albums on Billboard. Further, during this year’s pre-show festivities, Gotye (known for smash single “Somebody That I Used to Know”) beat out critic darling Fiona Apple for Best Alternative Album, and later won Record of the Year. Mumford & Sons, who made it big with their powerful debut Sigh No More, won Album of the Year with their even more commercially successful album, Babel, despite receiving less praise from music critics and fans for the sophomore effort.
Just be aware that the Grammys are not any indication of what the best music currently available might be, but rather, they highlight the most popular music of the year. You can enjoy the show for its star power, but the matter of the fact is everyone has different music tastes and everyone enjoys or dislikes particular artists, and it is virtually impossible to recognize that with a five-nomination limit to categories as expansive as “Song of the Year.” The Grammys aren’t going to go away, but as fans, we can take all victories and losses with a grain of salt, and continue listening to what makes us happy, gold-plated gramophone or not.