The Grammys are supposed to be "music's biggest night." Unfortunately, the only person who truly believes this is the copywriter who came up with that tagline. There are easily five festivals every year with stakes to the same claim. One of the highlights of this year's Grammys was a Bruno Mars/Sting/Rihanna collabo! I sincerely doubt my Facebook timeline will be flooded this morning with memes gushing about the incredible pairing of those three musical vanguards like it was after last year's Coachella. To be fair, it's hard to top hologram Tupac.
The Grammys has its heart is in the right place, but its priorities are all screwed up. Believe it or not, this year they put on a decent show hosted by David Alan Grier and featuring performances by R&B newcomer Elle Varner, jazz and world music legend Hugh Masekela, contemporary chamber music sextet Eighth Blackbird and terrible actor/terrible rapper/decent singer/decent movie star Tyrese. One caveat, it wasn't broadcast on CBS. For the second consecutive year (and also, it turns out, for the next three days) the Grammys streamed the pre-telecast awards on its website.
For those of us who truly love music, this is where honors are doled out to paltry duties like engineering, album cover design or producer. It's just a little backwards that all the awards that might actually drive new music sales are not a part of the telecast -- but then again, if they were, they'd have to cut that big Maroon 5/Alicia Keys performance, and as Neil Portnow pointed out to Deadline.com, "Great music, doesn't always make for great television." Here are ten Grammy awards that evidently don't make for great TV.
10. Best Alternative Album: Okay, Grammys, I get it. I'm sick of Tom Waits winning all the awards and accolades. I mean, after forty years of being a music iconoclast and hogging all the Grammys (with a lifetime total of two), I am sick of Tom Waits and all the overexposed boldfaced names in this category (Fiona Apple, M83, Bjork, Gotye). Not even that last artist's massive hit could lift this category into primetime. But then again, why should it? Alternative music doesn't make people want to buy records the Monday after the show (Arcade Fire was a fluke!), Justin Timberlake does.
9. Best Engineered Album, non-classical: Engineers are the last line of defense in the music industry. They are the only thing holding the masses of bedroom musicians at bay while the music biz still makes money. Why? Because engineers are responsible for the sonics of your favorite song. A good engineer can make an average song a hit between mixing and mastering. Now that music is so easy to create anywhere, engineers have their work cut out for them trying to stay on top of the latest techniques and sounds, so that new artist sounds great on your phone.
8. Rap Grammys Categories (Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance): Dude! Seriously? It's not bad enough that the category names have shifted over the years to the point where almost no one has won the same rap Grammy twice. (Ja Rule, no matter what your homies tell you, you were NOT robbed) The one thing that has remained consistent is that the trophies for rap have never seen the bright lights of the Grammy telecast. It makes sense. I mean, rap is the number one selling music in the country, and rap stars are known for giving really boring speeches. I wouldn't televise them either. Fun Fact: Jay-Z has thirteen Grammys. Remember all his great acceptance speeches? Me neither. That's because Jay has repeatedly declined to attend the awards because his categories were not televised. This year he spent his time in the limelight rightly ridiculing the Dream's swap-meet "Boyz n the Hood" snapback.
7. Best Album Notes Nominees: In an industry that can no longer sell albums, why not televise the category that makes people appreciate albums? Most great albums have great liner notes -- or at least they used to. Liner notes are the one thing that you can't get unless you download or purchase the entire album, or you haunt Wikipedia. This category is generally considered "music nerd" territory. It shouldn't be. Sites like Rapgenius.com, Wikipedia and Whosampled are having great success giving people the information they want to know about music. Billy Vera's acceptance speech was sweet, inspiring and everything that a music lover might say, but he has zero beef with Chris Brown, so maybe it's best he won before the broadcast.
6. Latin Music Grammys Categories (Best Latin Pop Album, Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative, Best Regional Mexican Album, Best Tropical Latin Album): Artists like Juanes, Fonseca, Campo, and Quetzal have millions and millions of fans in America and around the world. Why should Latinos have to cross over to the mainstream to get a slot on the televised award show? The televised award show should be crossing over to them. The money shot is the dead look on Juanes' face as he gives his acceptance speech. He knows he's been marginalized.
5. Jazz Grammys Categories (Best Jazz Instrumental, Vocal Jazz, Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Album, Latin Jazz Album): Jazz is the only form of music originated entirely in America. It's also the only form of music relegated entirely to the pre-telecast awards. Remember a couple of years ago when Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist and the whole world asked where she came from? She came from the ceremony where awards were presented before the telecast.
4. Best Recording Package: Graphic designers dream of winning Grammys. It's not like there's an Oscar for best movie poster. So as a graphic artist, this is about as rock and roll as you can get. The Internet has put incredible importance on things like how your album cover looks. In the age of MP3, that little square is the only visual connection people will ever have to their favorite song. A remarkable album cover can be the difference between life and death when consumers have 10,000 songs in their pocket. One look at the incredible box set for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and you start to have hope that maybe the grand tradition of the album won't disappear anytime soon. This award should be sandwiched right between the Katy Perry wardrobe malfunction and the One Direction tribute to the music of Indigo Girls.
3. Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package: You know all those really cool limited edition releases that show up right around Record Store Day every spring? What about those incredible boxed sets that you see around the holidays? You know what's interesting? You can't download limited edition vinyl or handcrafted boxes made to celebrate incredible releases. Not to mention that incredibly designed album cover art can also drive sales of physical albums. Just ask the folks over at GetOnDown.com, who specialize in incredible limited editon re-issues.
2. Best Rock Album Nominees: Okay Grammys, this is especially ironic considering the majority of the voting ranks is comprised of old rock and roll artists. It's also shamefully coincidental that every single nominated band is a band that "matters" when it comes to things like Pitchfork lists, Rolling Stone rankings, and VH1 talking head specials. Short of Muse, every single nominee in this category makes albums worth buying. I would love to see a VH1 special called "The Top 25 Grammy Acceptance Speeches You've Never Seen."
1. Producer of the Year: Record sales are driven by producers now more than ever (don't believe me, just ask Kendrick Lamar). This was a respectful lineup made up of the current crop of talented and ground breaking producers working in music (Diplo, Salaam Remi, Jeff Bhasker, Dan Auerbach and Markus Dravs). Winner Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys could be on the fast track to being as well known as Quincy Jones today. A televised award would have firmly placed him in the minds of music fans as someone to watch, but hey, selling records isn't great television right?