Eric Montfort recalls some of the best and worst moments in last Sunday night’s Grammy Awards and also questions their viability in a volatile music scene.
The 55th edition of the Grammy Awards, held last Sunday night, February 10th, at The Staples Centre, Los Angeles, provided some surprises but it was mostly a predictable affair. Time and again, these awards have been unsurprising. And Sunday’s was one of those affairs. There were some beautiful, expensive dresses and makeovers, and some dross that one could simply do without. I found it incredulous that host LL Cool J was reading all the tweets. I wonder whether he managed to read one leaked tweet, featuring a wardrobe memo from CBS Records which made the rounds and probably left many followers bursting their sides with laughter. It stated that “buttocks and female breasts must be adequately covered," and that "the genital region is adequately covered so that there is no visible 'puffy' bare skin exposure."
More serious is producer and music historian Andy Zax’s Grammy memo which stated that there was an insert with his Grammy ballot and that it tells everything one needs to know why these awards are just screwed up. He also posted a photograph of a piece of paper on which was printed a reminder – “Listen to nominated recordings”. Why did he say so? What implications are there behind such statements? Are we really led to believe that the jury featured people who may not even be interested in pop music? I wouldn’t be surprised. Once Paul McCartney himself complained that there were too many bigwigs in the music business who had no appreciation of music.
The Grammys, arguably the most prestigious music awards one can get anywhere in the world, are looking more like pageantry than an award ceremony. There were a few awful acts performing but there were a couple of pleasant surprises too, and some standard fare in between. Carrie Underwood could have easily won the best dressed artiste award if there would have been one that night. One critic remarked that her dress was more interesting than her act! Justin Timberlake looked very squarely dressed and let’s face it, these two acts do not exactly reflect the current music scene’s creativity. After all, despite the huge problems the music industry has been facing, both in terms of commercial survival and creativity, there are still quite a few good, creative acts worth their salt. Mumford and Sons are one such act. They surprisingly won the album of the year award thanks to their sophomore release Babel, which also sold encouragingly in America over these past few months.
As expected, Gotye and Kimbra won the Record of the Year for Somebody I Used To Know. Here is a song that is not really extraordinary but viable in its own right. And let us not forget that it was a huge hit last year. That too, is a criteria for Grammy nomination. Gotye also won the Best Alternative Album Section with Making Mirrors. Fun won the best song with We Are Young and Kelly Clarkson won the Best Pop Vocal Album for Stronger. Dan Auerbach won the most awards during this long-dragging ceremony, winning four categories, including three as part of The Black Keys. Usher’s Climax , as expected, won the Best R&B Performance and Beyonce`’s Love on Top won The Best Traditional R&B performance. I still cannot get to grips with the difference between R&B and traditional R&B, as these genres sound very much the same!
Frank Ocean won the Best Urban Contemporary Album Award with Channel Orange, having also been nominated in three other categories. Frank Ocean caused a stir last year as this album went down really well, both with American as well as European critics. I always contend that Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Four Tops among a few other soul acts, did better albums than this so called groundbreaking album. Channel Orange is a good album, not really extraordinary but it should not be hyped. The thing is that Frank Ocean’s revelation of his bisexuality and the lyrical content which does say a lot about urbane multicultural life and his own inner-self conversations with the listener, made it stand out from other albums. It certainly is an encouraging release and this award was, all in all, deserved.
Adele, with Mumford and Sons kept alive the British influence when she won the best solo performance with Set Fire To The Rain. Skrillex and Sirah were very much at home in these Grammys. This Californian electronica duo won the Best Dance Recording category. Paul McCartney won the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album with Kisses On The Bottom. This was certainly not his best ever album, but better than Michael Buble’s Christmas Holiday album or Carole King’s A Holiday Carole, which were the other nominees.
Carrie Underwood won the Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song with Blown Away and Zac Brown won the Best Country Album for Uncaged - a deserved win. Bonnie Raitt won The Best Americana album for Slipstream, having fended off stiff competition from The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons and John Fullbright. The Steep Canyon Rangers won the Best Bluegrass Album Award for Nobody Knows You, sealing a very positive 12 months. Esperanza Spalding, one of the recent biggest hits at the Malta Jazz Festival won the Best Jazz Vocal Album for Radio Music Society and Pat Metheny with his Unity Band won the Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Lecrae’s Gravity won the Best Gospel Album and TobyMac’s Eye on It clinched the Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.
Although veteran rock icon Bruce Springsteen did not win any awards this year, he was presented with the MusiCares Person of The Year for his artistic commitment and his dedication to philanthropy.