The Grammys: Who Are They For?
The Grammys are for teenagers — at least, I hoped they were. To me, teens are the demographic that the music industry should still be gunning for: They are generally adventurous listeners, often the most passionate — and most forgiving — music fans, and they have yet to let their taste in art calcify. You know, like how once we cross over into adulthood, we so often cling to a moment we've freeze-framed in time, back when music made us feel so much and we just never let that feeling go. Like other 35-year-old "when I was your age" down-and-outs like myself, some of us have settled in and given up music discovery as an intimate and ever-present part of our everyday life.
But this year's Grammys seemed far from being geared toward teens, or any one demographic, really — but not in a revolutionarily diverse way. Rather, it was like a hefty smattering of misguided tributes to fallen musicians (to be fair, we lost a lot of legacy artists in the past year) sprinkled with weird performances from a grab bag of pop stars. But I should mention the one fleeting silver lining of the night: when we were graced with an excellently executed and thought-provoking television appearance by Kendrick Lamar, one that was so good it left me wondering why we couldn't just have been given a two-hour-long Kendrick event instead of the Grammys.
If the music industry wasn't trying so hard to get a grasp of what listeners want (hint: It's the elevation/funding/exposure of more art like To Pimp a Butterfly), then maybe it could have avoided a messy night full of deflated pomp and circumstance. Still, that ghostly overlord — the establishment music industry — dug in and held on for dear life, shoving a Gwen Stefani video (that actually turned out to be a Target commercial!) in our faces. Then there was the carelessly positioned Intel commercial starring Lady Gaga, which aired directly following her David Bowie memorial sideshow — which itself was a medley so painfully produced in sound and vision that it came off like a Molly Shannon SNL skit of yore. Still, the Grammys managed to sink it all one foot further into its own grave by having twelve-year-old jazz prodigy Joey Alexander play, only to be followed by a sad-dad telethon-style plea from Common and Recording Academy president Neil Portnow asking music fans to please, please, please pay for music.
It wasn't all terrible: Andra Day and Ellie Goulding's performance pairing was a hit, as was Bonnie Raitt's helming of a B.B. King tribute. Adele was fantastic, considering that technical difficulties distracted the commentary enough to undermine her showtime. Then there was Brittany Howard's mere presence on stage (which I hope continues to be a thing we see in rock music for the rest of eternity) along with Alabama Shakes' wins and stunning-as-usual live performance.
But back to the tributes. There were so many, and all of them were bad. There was the supergroup Pirates of the Caribbean — I mean, Hollywood Vampires — who hailed Lemmy with a memorial more appropriate for a band on the Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill concert calendar. Somehow the person in charge of the Grammys' Maurice White appreciation managed to fuck up one of the biggest components of the musician/singer/songwriter/producer/composer's career — his massive funk-infused orchestral arrangements — by replacing them with reality-TV garbage act Pentatonix's a cappella nightmare, something even Stevie Wonder's voice and great jokes couldn't save.
Though the Grammys devoted entirely too much time to homages, Natalie Cole and Ornette Coleman barely got a nod — unlike Lionel Richie, who was celebrated as though he weren't there. In one of the Grammys' many moments of swinging and missing its potential younger audience, Demi Lovato, Tyrese Gibson, John Legend, Meghan Trainor and — wait for it — Luke Bryan appeared together to pay their respects to Richie, who remains very much alive. He was so alive, in fact, that he and his bare-chest-and-blazer combo made their way to the stage to sing, too.
The lowest lowlight of the night was the Justin Bieber, Diplo and Skrillex — er, this Jack Ü thing — performing "Where Are Ü Now." To steal a term from my friend Zach, this "bro safari" was the epitome of what women musicians have been up against for our entire lives in the music industry: mediocre dudes and their ability to crash any show and be praised endlessly for being 100 percent run-of-the-mill. I have more faith in teens right now than anything, and my gut says they aren't into this gross BS, either. But the Grammys sure were.
The fact that I had to find a TV on which to watch the Grammys reminded me of how irrelevant they are. Like mainstream radio, this night of dated ceremony is a virtual dead zone for anything in the music world that doesn't fit the confines of what is the most profitable when it comes to consuming mass quantities of the same art on repeat (save for those few life rafts like Kendrick Lamar's performance and Grammy wins). Other than a fun game I play on Twitter where I revel in the out-snarking of others as we all live-tweet an event together (though the Grammys will never come close to being as exciting as live-tweeting GOP debates), I see no purpose for the Grammys in today's world. There's just nothing happening there that is actually reflective of art in culture at that moment; teenagers — those golden tastemakers who are consuming art at an incredible and enviable pace — aren't wasting their time in these network dregs, wondering why Jack Sparrow is in a band now and questioning why Tori Kelly didn't just get to sing by her damn self.
Go home, Grammys. You're not at all drunk, but you're dated and boring and it's past your expiration date — I mean bedtime.
P.S.: Hey, Grammys: Next time, more Miguel and less Weeknd.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies