Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Grammys, huh?

What is it about the Grammys that inspires so much writing about their continued irrelevance? Six years ago, I wrote my first Grammy bitchfest. Surely if some high school junior knew in '03 that the awards were useless, everyone else should have figured it out by now, too. But here I am writing yet more Grammy observations, and numerous preview articles and live-blogging efforts detailed the show, from the annual disappointment at the nominations to the play-by-play chronicles of boredom.

Why does it seem like a constant surprise that the Grammys are out of step? Here's a quick experiment: take just 2-3 minutes to think about this decade in music. Think about what artists, songs, albums, genres, will be remembered as the defining sounds lf the era from 2000 until 2010. When the '00s joins the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s, what sounds will these years conjure up? Think on that for a moment, then see how your own shortlist compares to the past decade's worth of Grammy Album of the Year Selections:

2000: Supernatural by Santana
2001: Two Against Nature by Steely Dan
2002: Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack
2003: Come Away with Me by Norah Jones
2004: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by Outkast
2005: Genius Loves Company by Ray Charles
2006: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2
2007: Taking the Long Way by the Dixie Chicks
2008: River: The Joni Letters by Herbie Hancock
2009: Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant

Ahh, yes, how could I forget enjoying a Joni Mitchell covers album throughout President Obama's campaign, the sweet relief a posthumous Ray Charles album brought in the midst of the Iraq War, and the way Steely Dan served as the national soundtrack after Sept. 11?

So why do we care? It's in the way they string music fans along, I guess. There are just enough cool nominations and performers listed to fool you into thinking it's worth watching, until you get ten minutes in and realize it's going to be three hours of Jonas Brothers/Stevie Wonder duets.

A third Album of the Year nomination for Radiohead is one such hook that gets viewers (like this one) to tune in, but given that OK Computer and Kid A both lost already--Kid A to the aforementioned Steely Dan--it's doubtful that anyone really held out hope. At least we did get a pretty neat Thom/Jonny/marching band take on "15 Step," even though it was killed by the muddy sound that drowned the whole show. (Tip: If you have no more than ten minutes to set up each performance, and live TV has notoriously awful sound quality anyway, maybe packing drumlines, choirs, and string sections into every single song is unwise.)

At least we got the indelible image of a pregnant M.I.A. wobbling in black and white alongside T.I., Kanye, Jigga and Weezy, but every semi-hip moment was buoyed by a dozen more that were hopelessly outdated, like Neil Diamond sleepwalking "Sweet Caroline" through the 40th anniversary of it's release--probably to coincide with the last year the Grammys were relevant.

And God, even if it's going to be a back-patting contest by aging musicians, does it have to be such a bore? It was obvious the fix was in for Krauss and Plant when they got the coveted "we'll perform right before an award we're up for is given out, strategically putting us on-stage already" slot, and they got the win to a dearth of fanfare. Interestingly, their speech was cut short--by the Grammys own standards, Krauss and Plant recorded the best album of the year, but have to be played off-stage during their acceptance speech for... well, what, exactly? A 90-second snippet of Stevie Wonder playing for a second time tonight? Apparently not even the Grammys care about their winners.

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