Monday, January 27, 2014

Why I Don't Watch The Grammys

I like to watch awards shows, & regularly tune in (though I DVR them so I can fast-forward through the commercials) to watch the Emmys, the Oscars, & the Golden Globes.  But I don't watch the Grammys.  & there are two big reasons.

The main one is I don't much care for modern commercial music.  I have been out of touch with what passes for mainstream music for over two decades now.  If you like that music, that's fine - I'm not here to tell you you're wrong or you have terrible taste.  I don't believe anyone's opinion is more "right" than another's.  I will pay more attention to someone who is more passionate about what they like, or who can explain to me why they like it, but I won't dismiss you because you just listen to whatever's on the radio.  It's how the industry functions, & commercial radio exists for the industry.

The bigger one is this: there are very few people who win a Grammy who haven't already made a lot of money for themselves & their record company (& their record company is probably going to be owned by a corporation).  This is markedly different from the Oscars & the Emmys - a small budget film can snag an Oscar, & a television show no one is watching can win an Emmy.  But just a small sampling of this year's "best new artist" nominees (not a terribly scientific sample, but I think it's typical) will give you a sense of what I mean.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who won the award, sold, according to Wikipedia, "78,000 copies in [the album's] first week, & debuted at number 2 on the US Billboard 200 chart, but debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums & Top Rap Albums, while entering the Canadian Albums Chart at number 4. As of November 2013, the album has sold over 1,132,000 copies in the United States."

James Blake I could find no sales information about, except that after he won the Mercury Prize last year, his album sales went up "2500%."  But you can see how well his most recent record did on  charts around the world here.  (He's had more than one record, which means his nomination for "best new artist" is weird.)

Kendrick Lamar (who has released three albums) had his most recent album, according to Wikipedia, "debut at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 242,000 copies in its first week – earning the highest first-week hip hop album sales of 2012 from a male artist, along with the best-selling debut from a male artist of the year. It became Lamar's first album to enter the UK Albums Chart, peaking at number 16, & entering the UK R&B Albums Chart at number two. The album was also met with rave reviews from music critics, being named to many end-of-the-year lists. It was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) &, by December 2013, had sold over 1,109,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan."

Kacey Musgraves (another person with multiple albums under her belt) released a record last year that Wikipedia says, "debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 42,000 copies in its first week. It also entered at number one on the Top Country Albums chart. As of January 2014, the album has sold 302,000 copies in the US."

& Ed Sheeran - who released his debut three years ago - had his record "debuted atop of the UK Albums Chart with first-week sales exceeding 102,000 copies The album performed well on the US Billboard 200, peaking at number 5, selling 42,000 copies. The album is the highest debut for a British artist's first studio album in the US since Susan Boyle's I Dreamed a Dream."

The bottom line is this: unlike other awards shows, which seem to honor artistic excellence, the Grammys celebrate success.  The Grammys not only suggest that commercial success means artistic success - they insist it does.

I listen to a lot of new records, but many of them probably don't sell a whole lot.  To the Grammys, & to the critics who don't get free copies because their (independent) labels can't afford to send any to them, they're not even worth consideration.

Here's why I suspect that financial success doesn't always equal artistic success: the list of "best new artists" from 1994, twenty years ago.

Toni Braxton
Blind Melon
Digable Planets

Toni Braxton won, & now instead of making amazing records that music critics are swooning over, she's on Dancing With The Stars & has her own reality television show.

Again, I'm not insisting that what I like is better than what others like.  I just think the Grammys could be more honest about what exactly the awards are given for: they're mostly celebrating achievement in making money.

That's the reason why I don't watch their awards show.

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