Grammys and Oscars

I couldn’t stand the Grammys – that show made no sense.  It did not give any feel for what the real, feet on the street music industry is today.  It left America as confused as ever about what music is good and worth buying, much less shaping our culture.  I stopped watching after Pink’s performance cuz I figured that was probably as good as it would get.  And I couldn’t even tell you if she had a new album I was supposed to know about…

The Oscars, as Lefsetz aptly put in his blog about the Oscars, did a good job pointing out the movies I didn’t see and made me want to see them.  But I had mixed feelings about it – and it only made me think about all the things the film industry does to further the craft that the music industry does not do.

I watched the whole darn Oscars show because I was waiting to hear the great acceptance speech that never came.  Which might seem disappointing.  But interestingly enough, I believed the actors might have something inspiring, history making to say.  And that means something.  I’m not sure that even occurred to me when watching the Grammys.  I don’t really think many musicians being elevated today have that much that’s interesting to say.  Not sure they are encouraged to be that self-aware, much less craft aware.

I listened to the radio simultaneously on my iPhone during The Oscards, ‘cuz the interview they were doing on WXPN in Philly was more interesting than giving Oscar full attention. I’m not sure if that behavior is old fashioned – like my Dad listening to a ballgame on the radio while watching with the TV muted because the radio talk was always better.  Or if I’m newfangled – like the kids who are gaming, IMing, VOIPing, Facebooking and listening to music at the same time.

The one thing I will say for the Oscars that the Grammys does not do is present a sense that these people are career artists working on their craft.  In the Lefsetz blog he said "in music we expect you to get better and better" – but frankly, I think Lefsetz might feel that way, and I feel that way, and probably a few others agree, but I don’t think the Grammys suggest a music industry that believes that AT ALL.  If anything it minimizes the genres in which artists sustain careers long enough to get better and better over time.  And during Grammy-season, those genres are infiltrated by celebrities who pop in for a year just to get the prize and disappear.  The true heroes of these genres never get recognized on a national, publicized level.

The Grammys doesn’t really think about the music or musicians being celebrated.  The Grammys applauds artists not for doing well, taking risks, leaping new bounds, or creating daring/compelling new recordings.  They just present a front that music stars still exist in our culture, and they do it to feed a big fat irrelevant beast.  In hopes the public will buy it.  But the public is getting bored with all that.  And boredom is the first telltale sign of demise…

Music is stuck in a rut.  And has been for a long time.  We’ve been glorifying old acts that only sell volume because labels put money into them in the ’80s.  And we’ve been pushing over-polished, uninspired acts that have nothing in particular to say.  It used to be an artist "sold out" in order to get mass appeal.  Now with the thriving niche, and how lame it is to seem mainstream or inauthentic, I’m not sure "selling out" is even worth the trouble, stalkers, detox and mental breakdowns anymore.

So how do we find a way, in this new world of music, to actually reward the artists who are doing well? 

There is simply more music out there.  More musicians recording and touring than ever before.  And audiences have diverse taste.  They’re listening to 5 different genres in one afternoon.  They get excited about a new artist for a period of time, but since there are so many new artists everyday, it’s nearly impossible to retain mindshare.  Doing well means something totally different than it used to – and The Grammys are stuck in the old music world.

The film industry’s response to burgeoning independence has been promotion of independent film outlets/taste makers like IFC, Sundance, Cannes.  Festivals and networks that choose – and sanction which independent artists should get the most exposure.  Which makes it more viable to invest in independent films.  And look what, in a relatively short time, the support of those films has done to the major productions!  Do you see the influence of independent filmmaking on The Hurt Locker?

And speaking of the best film of the year…  The Oscars, at least, reward movies that represent heavy, thoughtful material, creative risk-taking and people with real talent.  I’ve been watching all those movies I missed – as kindly prescribed by The Oscars show programming.  And every film I’ve watched so far has been new, unique, compelling.  The best actors’ performances have been inspired and truly award-winning.  The collaborations happening in that scene elevate the craft.

In the Grammys, and the music industry at large, we haven’t had the guts to reward something intense, thoughtful and courageous in a very long time.  Which is why we haven’t had anything amazing happen in a very long time.

Can we do something to change that?