So much happened at the Grammys this year — Prince threw the shade of the century, Kanye acted like his typical, childish, boring self and someone forgot to turn grandma Paul McCartney’s microphone on during his awkward collaboration with Rihanna and Ye. But of all the things we’re talking about in the aftermath, actual, you know, music is not really one of them.
Music culture in the mainstream is now less about the music and more about the cardboard cutout personalities. And so who needs bands at a thing like the Grammys when you’ve got a bunch of famous people willing to just be there to say, via Twitter, that they were there.
Yes, AC/DC came out and did whatever that is that they’ve been doing for the last four decades, and then later on Ed Sheeran and John Mayer wanked gently while Herbie Hancock sat on stage, but no where near the spotlight (probably because he is so awesome he would have overshadowed the two music bros regardless of what he did). And then ELO came on and bored us to death. The only current rock-ish band that performed was Imagine Dragons and that wasn’t even real — it was just a Target commercial.
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Mostly, the Grammy performances were about pop. Which is great — pop performances are a huge part of the mainstream music world (and actually showed much more diversity in acts when it came to gender than anything rock-related did). Beyonce, Sam Smith, Annie Lennox, Sia, Mary J. Blige, Pharrell Williams — they were all wonderful. But even when they put people involved in bands on the stage, they didn’t do much — Gwen Stefani and Adam Levine’s dull duet proved that they would rather promote their boring-ass tv show than remind us that they both were in their own bands once. Not that it was expected at all — Stefani and Levine have abandoned their roots in favor of what I can only assume to be really good money and an opportunity to stay relevant to grandmas and thirteen-year-olds through television. I know, the Grammys have been proving themselves out of touch for many years now, but have they given up on even trying when it comes to rock music.
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Paramore picked up its first Grammy ever, winning Best Rock Song for “Ain’t It Fun” — but the band didn’t perform. Across the genre, Beck, Jack White, Ryan Adams, Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, Tenacious D, Anthrax, Mastedon, Motörhead, Slipknot, U2 and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were also all nominated and didn’t perform (thank goddess U2 didn’t; I think we all made our feelings clear when Songs of Innocence was unwillingly installed on millions of disgruntled Apple customers’ phones in 2014). And that’s not to mention the fact that Paramore picked up an award that was last given to a band/rock act featuring a woman way back in 1999 when Alanis Morrissette took the Grammy for “Univinvited.” Though women in the musical instrument-playing categories were weakly represented, at least St. Vincent won the best album in the realm of “alternative,” an antiquated genre term that basically means nothing in 2015. But still, she didn’t perform.
The Grammys have never been a barometer for what is really going on in contemporary music; they are much like the inventory carried by their advertiser Target’s big box store compact disc section — they skim off the top of what’s the most popular with the masses and then throw in some old dudes (I mean “legacy acts”) and call it good. But why does that seem to no longer mean paying attention to younger acts that involve musicianship? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with pop music or hip-hop at all, nor am I saying they were accurately represented either — I’m just wondering why music made by actual bands is no longer part of the pop music equation. Even when some cooler, legacy musician-oriented pop acts were physically on stage like, um, Prince and for some people’s tastes, Paul McCartney, they weren’t really playing. Prince was just presenting (though that was a performance in itself and it was great) and McCartney was going through the motions. He was really just there so they could say Paul McCartney was there. Even Herbie Hancock (who had arguably one of the genuinely weirdest and most interesting performances on the Grammys of all time back in 1983 with ”Rockit”) didn’t really get real stage time as his musician self, and he is one of the most prolific and multi-genre crossover acts of all time. He felt like an afterthought stuck playing behind the mediocre activities of Mayer and Sheeran.
These attempts at live musical collaborations — which was a terrible idea most of the time, though getting to see and hear performances from Mary J. Blige and Annie Lennox in 2015 was nice — weren’t about playing music, but instead putting a bunch of important people on the stage at the same time so the Internet could get excited about it happening. I guess in that way, the Grammys are kind of like Instagram now — the whole show is more about the perceived feeling of an experience through its presentation and amount of important people involved, rather than being an actual experience or moment in musical history worth documenting.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies