When Grammy Needed To “Get It Right,” They Decided To “Aim Right For The Bottom Line” Instead
Grammy’s Blindly Chainsmoking Broccoli And Drinking Lemonade While Cranes Are In The Sky.
Full disclosure: I am a member in good standing of The Recording Academy.
At some point the global music industry will wake up and realize that there’s a dangerous game being played with the price of music and live musical experiences that ends at absolute zero. Thus, it’s amazing to look at the 2017 Grammy nominations and notice the abundance of nominations for free-market capitalist success stories like Chance The Rapper and Kanye West, plus digital era superstars Drake and Beyonce. In America, income inequality is on the rise, as it is in numerous other countries. In realizing this, it might’ve been wise to nominate artists pushing forward the less intrinsically pop and cash-driven “back to jazz, soul, and R & B movement” initiated in 2015 by session players on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and continued by performers who were consistently 2016’s most impressive creatives. 2017’s Grammy nominees make me wonder if Grammy has forsaken staring into the dark soul of the world and instead embraced the blithe, bittersweet happiness of dying-on-the-vine capitalistic greed. Moreover, I wonder what that means for the future of music.
2005 was arguably the last hurrah for the non-digital/streaming-driven music industry. 39% of consumers in America purchased music in physical stores, and 13 billion units were sold overall. Big winners at the 2005 Grammy Awards bespoke an ironic future to come. U2 who swept in their nominated categories for their album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, while Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” was the Record of the Year.
The years between 2006 and the present have seen sales decline 77% overall in the music industry, while at the same time, Grammy’s attempted to dissuade any notion of “the sky is falling” by adapting to being the metaphorical tail wagging the dog in acknowledging EDM’s ascendance, adoring the resurgence of post-teen aimed pop ditties, and yes, falling head-over-heels in love with hip-hop culture.
Simultaneously, we’ve also seen both a rise and fall of progressive liberalism worldwide, and we’re now staring headlong into an era where dispassionate conservatism is likely one the rise.
In Grammy possibly attempting to hold firm to the literal last vestiges of our most liberal of eras, here’s some controversial potential realities to consider:
- EDM in 2016 is a scorched earth musical wasteland.
- Teen pop in 2016 is a degraded take on teen pop in 1956.
- It’s 2016, and hip-hop as Grammy is awarding it, is dead.
On February 12, 2017, the Grammys will be awarded in a broadcast wherein we’re going to celebrate, possibly moreso than ever before, an industry out-of-touch with reality and attempting to present a group of emperors in new clothes to a world where emperors probably need to be wearing a suit of armor more than ever before.
EDM’s best represented by The Chainsmokers, an American duo who successfully fused together trap, future bass, tropical house, and ambient vibes into “Closer.” It’s a behemoth of a song that succeeds because it is the musical equivalent of a 100 gallon trash receptacle that’s swept through every single EDM festival that mainstream pop fanatics only heard about in theory but never attended in reality. As well, it’s likely the savviest and best-crafted song released in the decade that dance music has dominated the global zeitgeist, and for that, deserves praise. But for the purposes of Grammy being relevant, nominating this disgusting, yet sonorous pop monstrosity also shows that they’re grossly behind the curve.
Smart-phone and app-driven teen and post-teen pop is all over the place as there’s not just EDM, but artists including Adele, Rihanna, Beyonce, Solange, Drake, Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, D.R.A.M., DJ Khaled and more all over these nominations. This means that there’s a well-evident push towards artists that stream, trend, share, and playlist well. Gone is the one year aberration that was Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, which as an album that pushed artists who played music and crafted songs that in vibe and perceived public appeal were aimed at poignant social commentary moreso than any sort of financial gain. Replacing it is well, Lil Yachty.
Hip-hop? Ohhh, hip-hop. The nominees for “Best Rap Song” include not just just-released from psychiatric evaluation Kanye West’s Taylor Swift diss track and Drake’s soft-shoe bachata raps. As well, they include a collaborate gospel anthem from the, again, just-released from evaluation Mr. West, as well as Chance the Rapper’s euphoric anti-industry takedown, and a posse rap that’s the logical end of DJ Khaled Snapchatting his way to uber celebrity. Hip-hop’s gone VERY far. Too far, perhaps?
Maybe this is the moment that we realize that popular music has journeyed all of the way around the metaphorical sun, and that we need to consider the idea of starting all over again. Imagine a 2017 Grammys where featuring savvy festival debris purveyors The Chainsmokers win Best New Artist, Kanye West is wheeled onstage in a straight jacket to claim an award, Solange recites the lyrics to her 2008 indie smash “Fuck The Industry,” and, as a capper, an entire world of parents have to discuss with an entire world of children just exactly what kind of pill Mike Posner “popped in Ibiza, to show Avicii [he] was cool.” It’d be perverse perfection.
2017’s Grammys could’ve been an amazing moment that highlighted the magnificent year for jazz, soul, and R & B-tinged music including the musical mastery of Terrace Martin, again awarding the likes of Robert Glasper, spotlighting Gaslamp Killer, and placing larger focus on ever-so-slightly highlighted artists including soul-stirrers Gallant, KING, Anderson .Paak, and more. Their songs and albums, though not trending buzz-pieces that dazzled the digital zeitgeist, reflect the kind of work that in a world where making money should honestly be secondary to re-discovering our best humanity.
The quicker that the music industry accepts that music’s worth is declining at an ever-quickening rate, the sooner we get to a point where Grammy, which, though oft-lambasted, could be a beacon guiding us to best solutions for our best selves in dark societal times. We shouldn’t be celebrating so many turnt-up, last-ditch, day-late and dollar-short moneymakers. Rahter, there’s actually music, that for the long-term aims of an industry rediscovering how to create a profit-drawing role for itself, is so undeniably sonorous, innovative and soul-enriching, that it demands to be rewarded.
Wringing cents-as-drips from a dollar-dry industry is a terrible cause that we shouldn’t support. Though not necessarily fiscally viable, there’s music out there that represents a better way.
Maybe Grammy will realize this next year. Maybe they’ll never realize it. If Grammy never realizes it, I’m just scared of and angered by the next degradable awarded thing we’re going to hear and see.