Monday, January 27, 2014

Grammys 2014: Art or Artifice?

I wonder if you can play those itty-bitty gold records?

Last night was was the Grammys. And once again, as always, tradition triumphs over innovation (Herb Alpert and Black Sabbath? Really?), though upstart 17-year-old Lorde did walk out with a couple. Other big winners included Daft Punk*, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Paul McCartney, and Maria Schneider. You can see here who won awards, only a paltry few of which were actually announced during the 4-hour program. And here's five other things the people at the Guardian learned during the awards (I guess the Guardian has started using listicles, too).

Since the awards show wasn't really about handing out awards, what was it about? It was mainly about the music industry advertising itself, with long breaks for commercials. While there were some interesting acts, mostly, I'm annoyed that most of what I saw last night was about looks, spectacle, and stardom instead of music. These are not entertainment awards, but music awards, right? Now, I know that live music (which was on stage last night) is different than recorded music (which is the awards were about), but it's all still music.

Just to be clear, I'm okay with spectacle and I'm okay with stardom. But when spectacle and stardom take precedent over music on a music awards show, I think there's a problem. When it's hard to tell the difference between the "Pepsi Half-Time Show" commercial and the real show, there's a problem (I admit that comparison was a bit hyperbolic). For example, I think that both Pink's aerial gymnastics and her singing are great. But does she have to pretend to do both at the same time? Couldn't Pink have done the aerial gymnastics while someone else have sung, and then sung herself afterward? And then there's Katy Perry.

Here are some acts from the Grammys that I thought were really about good music:

  1. Imagine Dragons/Kendrick Lamar - while there was indeed a lot of spectacle in this performance, it was possibly the most musically overpowering of the night. From the expressions on the audience, I think it sounded even better in person. There was a lot of difficult choreographed drumming that also added to the music. The artists worked together wholeheartedly to make their seemingly random pairing work, and I thought the Holi-esque colored powder (link) was kind of cool.
  2. Daft Punk/Stevie Wonder/Pherrell Williams - I'm not sure what I can say, except that everyone up there looked life a musician making music and it sounded great. Who needs flashing lights when you can make climaxes with your music? 
  3. Lorde - While her vocal production was a little forced (perhaps trying to keep up with the over-the-top-ness of the night), I appreciated that they didn't just stick to the recording, but took some risks in the arrangement that I think proved this song deserved a songwriting award, not just a recording award.
  4. Kacey Musgraves - I'm not sure if the ridiculous lighted costumes and neon cacti were Kacey's idea or not, but the performance was good enough that I could ignore them.
  5. Carole King/Sara Bareilles - Just two women, two pianos, and some expressive singing, and one woman really excited to be singing with the other one.
What did you think of the Grammys acts?

P.S. That whole fan video thing was weird. Do you think they paid the fans to use their fan videos? Or just told them they wouldn't sue?

Vocab: climax, arrangement, vocal production, record

*You gotta hand it to two guys who show up in costume every time they go out.


  1. Two thoughts. 1) How do we even know that was Daft Punk?
    2) I tuned in right at Hunter Hayes's performance, and I thought that was a display of shear musical talent and not so much spectacle. Also, it got me to tune into a country station on Sirius yesterday to see what the current state of country music is, so that was effective.