Last night’s Grammys caught up to Time’s Person Of The Year declaration from 2006 and so they were all about You. You had the opportunity to cover Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” or Beyoncé’s “Halo” and appear as a member of a YouTubeMosaic. You had the power to select which song Bon Jovi would exhume from its well-worn back catalog. You had the opportunity to watch the shaggy-haired founder of a cool blogging platform that You might use cover the awards, even if he wasn’t 100% clear on who would be amenable to a red-carpet question about his service. And, most crucially, You were able to watch as the artists that You might enjoy were honored by the telecast-provided that the songs and albums You liked had come out before August 30.
And following the reactions to the Grammys last night on Twitter was simultaneously maddening and fascinating, thanks to both the nature of the reactions and CBS’ outmoded desire to cling to those 20th-century relics known as “time zones.” (I’m in Colorado at the moment, and the MST broadcast aired an hour behind the live action.)
Discussing time zones is probably a lost cause, so let’s instead talk about what happens when you throw “pop music” in 2010 open to the masses, who are increasingly defining said term based on the contents of their iTunes library, an RSS reader, and not much else. You have the people who thought that the award-laden Taylor Swift was only famous because of Kanye West interrupting her during her Video Music Awards speech. (Never mind that her two albums have sold some 10 million copies combined to date-and a lot of those sales happened way before September’s incident.)
You had the people who actually claimed that “MGMT was robbed” of its Best New Artist award. You had the people who fervently believed that it would be radically revolutionary for The Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat” to win the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration*. You had everyone hating the Black Eyed Peas, pretty much universally. All that hate didn’t stop “I Gotta Feeling” from re-entering the iTunes Store’s top 10 this morning.
Here’s the thing about the Grammys, which people seem to not understand in the name of Making A Statement About How They Have Better Music Taste Than Everyone Else: There’s no way that they can’t be out of touch with the majority of music fans.
Let us briefly review the rules, which the awards ceremony helpfully provides on its official site:
Recording Academy members and record companies enter recordings and music videos released during the eligibility year….
Reviewing sessions by more than 150 experts in various fields are held to ensure that entered recordings meet specific qualifications and have been placed in appropriate fields….
First-round ballots are sent to voting members… To help ensure the quality of the voting, members are directed to vote only in their fields of expertise….
In craft and other specialized categories, final nominations are determined by national nomination review committees comprised of voting members from all of The Academy’s Chapter cities.
Final-round ballots are sent to voting members… the finalists determined by the special nominating committees are also included in this ballot. In this final round, Recording Academy members may vote in the four general categories and in no more than eight (8) of the 29 fields.
And then the results are announced, with most of them being unveiled as the red carpet fills up with disastrously dressed honorees.
This is a long process involving lots of people, many of whom have, let’s say, been in the music business for a long time. And it’s one that starts way early-for consideration in yesterday’s ceremonies, nominated songs and albums had to be commercially released before Aug. 31. (Yes, five months ago!) The out-of-touchness is in part a result of the early deadline, which itself is partially because music is such a sprawling media, particularly when compared with those media honored by the Emmys and the Oscars. (In 2008, more than 115,000 albums were commercially released!)
This sheer amount of available stuff also contributes to some cocooning by the old-guard members who still dutifully cast ballots-hence a live version of Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile” being nominated for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals (it lost to “I Gotta Feeling”), or a live album by Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood getting a Rock Album nod (Green Day won), or the Metal category consistently being dominated by old-guard types like Judas Priest (this year’s winner) and Metallica.
On the other side, you have the newer voters who might be a little more exploratory than their biz-lifer brethren; the Best New Artist nu-alt logjam of MGMT, the Silversun Pickups and the Ting Tings, for example, pretty much ensured that the Zac Brown Band, who are well-known enough to market their own barbecue rub (it’s available at Cracker Barrel), would walk away with the golden gramophone last night.
But letting people know that the Grammys are the result of an ever-more-imperfect process that’s the equivalent of trying to pick the Greatest Pine Needle out of the White River National Forest does little to tamp down the white-hot rage that erupts when people feel their musical taste is being ignored.
And apparently getting people to argue is quite the way to get them to tune in, even if they’re a couple of hours behind their East Coast pals. Ratings for the telecast were way up, and Twitter’s trending topics were lit up with Grammy references last night.
Can’t wait for the great Susan Boyle vs. Vampire Weekend debates of 2011 to start.
* I am thrilled beyond belief that The Lonely Island’s consumerism-hop parody “I’m On A Boat” did not snag the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration Award, despite the groanings of Internet types who somehow found it so weird that a song spawned by a General Electric-produced TV show would be noticed by people in the real world. Call me a fun-hater, but note that T-Pain, who appears on the track, even seemed horrified by the honor; he told Ryan Seacrest, “It’s more amazing that a lot of my stuff don’t get nominated for Grammys, then a mockery of the art is nominated. It’s weird.” I’d say it’s more “patently offensive” than “weird,” myself.