Monday, February 9, 2009
Seriously, the title should sum it all up - why do we tune in to this anymore? I tune in, year in and year out, hoping that deserving bands win Album of the Year mostly. This year there was great reason to tune in: the Grammys were actually relevant! Talented, decent artists were nominated. Kings of Leon won a Grammy; M.I.A was pregnant, performed and nominated for Record of the Year; Album of the Year was between two amazing albums, two not so bad albums, and an album of seasoned veterans that won the day nominations were announced. It's how the Grammys always goes. Oh, and Radiohead played "15 Step" with the USC Marching Band and owned the damn night.
So Alison Krauss & Robert Plant won every award they were up for basically. They then got to perform right before taking home the night's top honor Album of the Year. Coveniently enough they had to walk all of 10-25 feet from backstage. It then got me to thinking, and going to the source to be reminded of how the Album of the Year category always goes. Typically, they are 3-4 really solid, culturally noticed albums vieing for the top prize. Typically, these albums lose to a record put out by bands of longevity, bands who deserve for putting the time in. During his acceptance speech, Plant acknowledged that back in his day, this would have been called him and Zeppelin selling out. Now, it's just a nice way to spend his Sunday evening.
So what am I getting to? My point is that in a flailing industry where sales of the record decline more and more each year, the industry needs to come up with a plan to see more records get sold. Typically, albums see a spike in sales after winning a Grammy - this time next week, Billboard will report that the Krauss/Plant collab Rising Sand will see a sales increase of 113% or something. But with people downloading music illegally these days more than going to their big box/chain store to purchase the record, they need to come up with a tactic to make profit. This is done by awarding Album of the Year, the highest honor, to an album with a buying demographic. The other nominees typically will win the top prize in their genre - Radiohead: alternative, Lil' Wayne: rap, Coldplay: ...rock - and then give the big one to the one that will move most units. When the record by the man who fronted one of the world's biggest rock bands and a legendary country singer gets the recognition of Album of the Year, their fans will buy the album because their fans are older people who don't know how to download music; they might not even know how to buy things online, so they go to Wal-Mart, spend $15 on the CD and everyone wins.
But look at this year's other nominees: Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter III has a feat that no one has done in a long time, selling over a million copies in its first week and thus becoming the top selling record of 2008. And then there is that Radiohead band who defied all odds, told the industry to fuck off, and should have been recognized last night with their ballsy name-your-own-price method for In Rainbows. They even disclosed with the public how many copies were sold and how much money was made. They even sold 100,000 copies of a limited edition discbox of it that retailed at $80 bucks. But I guess NARAS couldn't recognize them for defying the industry and releasing it themselves.
And it wasn't like this year was the first. Last year, the Foo Fighters, Kanye, Vince Gill and Amy Winehouse lost to Herbie Hancock doing a bunch of Joni Mitchell covers! No one's gonna waste their time downloading that for free. In 2005, Ray Charles had passed so he automatically won, beating out Green Day, Usher, Alicia Keys and Kanye again. The years that stick out to me the most are 1997 and 2001 particularly. In '97, Celine Dion beat out such heavyweights as Beck and Smashing Pumpkins, while in '01 we saw Steely Dan beat out Beck, Radiohead and Eminem. I still can't believe Outkast won Album of the Year in 2004. Then again, they were up against Evanescence.
So, yes, the Grammys will always be political. They'll never recognize great albums anymore, just ones by people who follow the rules, who are still amidst the confines of record labels, and, most importantly, to those who can still sell records.