Between the Grammy’s a few weeks ago, wherein Dave Ghrol made an impassioned award acceptance speech about ‘the human element’ of music, and the Oscars last Sunday, there has been a lot more reflection on the meaning of creative industry awards than what’s usually to be expected in this funny l’il Postmodern society of ours. In a world where the music and film industries are so inherently aware of their own irrelevance and complete unwillingness to change, it’s a wonder that anyone tunes into this masturbatory spectacles anymore. Why does the industry even bothers to take up one given network’s primetime programing (and, thereby, wasting the time of other networks thinking they can’t compete) is a frustrating exercise from year to year. Knowing how much the audience and critics alike have come to absolutely hate these shows, less indistinguishable from year to year and indicating a cultural holding pattern on our television sets, they still put on these awards shows, because . . . Well, I don’t know. Maybe out of the incessant need for trivia (quick: Best New Artist in 1979 was won by?), or the equally trivial need to organize our culture into rankings and lists. But it’s become obviously clear that even while being self-congratulatory as they are, these award shows are not put on out of respect for the artists who actually produce the works worth winning.
Still, they’re put on, and people do watch them, and discuss results the day after. But going back to that speech by Dave Grohl, and after reading an interesting piece listing the main disappointments the Academy Awards from this week’s New York Times Sunday edition by their two lead film critics, I thought about all the disappointing elements of the Grammy awards — the shows, the nominees, the winners, etc.. If being a fan of “The Simpsons” has taught me anything, it’s that the Grammys are looked upon as the most meaningless of the creative industry awards (yes! more worthless than the Tonys, which celebrates a medium that, for the most part, is only seen in New York City), and from the past few years, I generally agree with that sentiment. Meanwhile, and despite all the things we hate about award programs, there’s still a command of respect to being an Oscar-nominated or -winning person in the film industry. It raises the question of whether or not there will ever be an award program that takes music seriously.
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I often wonder if it’s our fault. How we consume music, how much of it we try to get for free, or download en masse, our fickle taste in trending styles and artists. Perhaps it’s no wonder that the Grammys treat the artists they award as interchangeable faces to reflect the current flavor of the week, rather than truly mesmerizing artists, because we take it for granted. Strange, considering how much of it we demand. Even the Oscars treats artists who win Best Original Song as worthy of mock and ridicule, either by directly joking about the given artist, or about the desperation to appear hip by nominating and awarding artists who are very much popular now, but will never last forever.
But then, it may also the irrelevance of commercial radio that has given us a reason not to give music and artists our attention. There was an interesting article posted at the Time Out Chicago website, spurred by the recent death of the Monkees’ Davy Jones (as well as the passing of Whitney Houston), about the lackadaisical tributes to these artists because of the prevalence of programmed shows, that are shipped in from across the nation to small market stations. It lies the limp approach to music that DJs take to their own content, describing their playlist as “songs that people have heard time and time again, know about them, and don’t want to hear anything else” — an actual description from a producer in a small market radio station in Upstate New York when I was training to hopefully become a radio jock. What I took from that description, despite all the cheering and hope he had for the radio industry in general, was that DJs are useless, and there’s no point in getting people excited to hear this music, which the audience is supposedly passionate about, because they expect it. They rely on it, just as they would the sun coming up, but forget about the variety that radio has to offer. And part of that feels like it’s because radio has gotten to a point where growth in the industry is nonexistent, and it’s because of the industry’s own laziness.
There is no award that recognizes artistic merit. It may be written in the Grammy guidelines that in the nominating rounds, albums and singles may only be judged on ‘quality,’ and have no consideration for sales and chart performance. Yet, the only way for artists to even be considered in the running is if their company submits their work to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. So regardless of voting guidelines, who’s in is what sells, so forget about smaller labels getting any kind of representation. Hell, it’s the reason why Foo Fighters won the Grammy this year — not that they didn’t deserve it out of the artists nominated for Best Rock Performance, but there were better albums released last year. Worse than that, the other awards to look forward to are the AMAs, which are voted on by music buyers and essentially have the same nominees because of chart performance and artist awareness, or the Music Video Awards, which is a A) based on a visual medium, and B) meaningless because nobody watches music videos anymore, at least, not on television.
Many critics of the Oscar awards seem to have the reverse problem, where nominees and winners tend to be movies that are considered inaccessible to the general audiences who actually go to movies, and instead favored by literati. But for someone like me, and hopefully you, I would think of that as a good problem to have. Even though the awards are wasted on an industry looking inward and struggles for relevance to the rest of the country, at least it keeps the credibility to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Because as long as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is doing shit like nominating artists who recognize the artists most vocal about the meaningless of the Grammys, and giving it to them, then we will continue to see an industry self-fulfilling their own prophecy of doom.