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Bon Iver's Grammy nomination doesn't change the Grammys

Unless there's some kind of cruel Carrie-style joke going on, every high-school kid pretty much knows what to expect from the senior prom: The weird alienated kids will be absent, the male and female establishment favorites will be coronated in a quickly forgotten ceremony, and everyone else will just be trying to get laid. Interestingly, proms came into "prom"inence (heyo!) in the 1950s — right around the time the Grammy Awards started happening. And since those heady days, they've been serving basically the same function.

Until last year, allegedly, when the Grammys got buck-wild crazy with an unprecedented victory for the theretofore totally unheard-of Arcade Fire and its album The Suburbs. Well, unheard of only if you ignore the fact that The Suburbs debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and that the Arcade Fire had already been a major critical darling for several years — but that's beside the point. The point is, they're totally "indie." And if that was an upset last year, this year call it a trend.

Stats-wise, the Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, this go-round's dark-horse indie nominee, share some striking similarities: Both are emotive chart-topping critical favorites, independent in that their respective labels have no overt ties to the RIAA's PowerRape Litigation Arm. But not everybody's buying it. In fact, not even Bon Iver is buying it, and just to prove how hip he is to the Grammys' phoniness, Justin Vernon (the guy who comprises Bon Iver) made a point of calling it out in an interview in the New York Times: "I kind of felt like going up there and being like, 'Everyone should go home, this is ridiculous. You should not be doing this. We should not be gathering in a big room and looking at each other and pretending this is important.'" He then conceded that, if he wins, he probably won't actually do that.

But he does have a point: The Grammys don't matter, and neither does this trend. In the wake of last year's win, the Arcade Fire remains exactly as popular among exactly the same group of people as it was before. And while that band got a lot of attention for being unexpected, last year's truly unexpected winner — the quirky, Afro'd jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, who took home Best New Artist — went largely unremarked upon and was later drenched in pig's blood and returned to the purgatory of semi-obscurity.

But Vernon's larger point — that the Grammys are a masturbatory popularity contest — can't help but come off as just a little disingenuous. It's pretty telling that in that same NYT interview, Vernon references the time when the bizarro-gothic Nick Cave turned down an MTV Video Music Award nomination — but unlike Cave, Vernon accepted his nominations. And the Grammys, no doubt in a crass bid to snag viewers in the people-who-like-indie-bands demographic, are hyping his involvement. Last week, they debuted an ad for the ceremony specifically centered on — surprise! — Bon Iver.

Ultimately, Bon Iver's nomination represents no real shift in the Grammys' purpose; it only represents a change in what's popular enough for the Grammys to highlight its popularity. It may not matter, but as long as Vernon's participating, neither does his protest.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte