Why it's Okay You Didn't Watch the Grammys
True story: Did you know that dozens, potentially hundreds of things were happening last night that were not the 2013 Grammys? Here are a few of them: The Brooklyn Nets played a game, and lost spectacularly. The Walking Dead had its midseason premiere. Your mom was wondering why you don’t call her more often just to say hi.
Maybe you didn’t notice of any of this because you were watching the Grammys. You may have been doing this for any number of reasons. Maybe because it felt like some kind of milestone for Frank Ocean to sing a lyric like "You run my mind, boy" on national television, or maybe because you still think Jack White’s the true and only savior of rock n’ roll. Maybe you just wanted to follow along with people on Twitter, always a reassuring way to spend a lazy Sunday night.
I didn’t watch the Grammys because I knew ahead of time I’d only have three reactions to any part of the ceremony:
1. Abject disdain for any number of the aesthetic or critical choices on display (the booking of Maroon 5, any mention of Chris Brown’s existence in a positive context, the weird insistence that "We Are Young" is the superior fun. song, the tacit perpetuation of the notion that great art has to make guap to justify itself)
2. A pesky, self-righteous validation whenever someone I liked or thought acceptable took an award, as though this somehow made up for the avalanche of shitty decisions made by the voters over the last sixty years.
3. The creeping nausea that accompanies an industry parading itself as an art form.
With such a joyless trio of possibilities, it didn’t seem worthwhile to set aside the four or five hours it would take to sit through the whole thing, even if it meant not understanding Twitter through that through that time (Though that’s hardly a bad thing.)
What do people want from the Grammys, anyway? Performances and pageantry is fine enough, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with leaving it at that. But placing any kind of stock in the critical decision-making—which every watcher seems to do at least to some extent, judging from the number of people on my feed spazzing out whenever Mumford and Sons won anything—begs the question of what we’re gaining from any so-called official validation or recognition of what anyone thought was the best song or band or audiobook recording of the year. Apart from the so-obvious-why-bother-saying-it-but-sure-I’ll-say-it truism that tastes are tastes, maaaan, not particularly beholden to any kind of objective criteria, there’s the fact that revisiting any of these songs is as easy as pulling up an old playlist or organizing your iTunes by year and scrolling for a second, which means we don’t exactly need a placeholder to remind us of what was good in any given year. The Internet didn’t quite enable complete democratization of our music listening habits, but it did a nice job of collapsing history into an era-less lump sum you can access any time for however long you want, which is certainly easier than rewatching The Tree of Life. There’s also the fact that music and the way it catches on is subject to a lot of unexplainable mental processes not necessarily related to whether something is technically well put-together, which is why no one will be able to convince me the Lumineers aren’t actually just ripped from some third-rate Funny or Die video about why hipsters take photos of their food like this (cue exaggerated, desperate pantomiming). Winners do receive an uptick in sales which is nice when it’s someone deserving (see, there I go again) but I’m not sure if anyone’s life is improved because Bon Iver can buy himself some exotic beard oils and a really nice axe to split wood with.
Regardless of whatever well-intentioned essays will argue, the real problem with the Grammys is what happens whenever any group of power-hoarding figures decides to get together and celebrate their own authority without anyone there to check their privilege. As it is with the Oscars, it’s nice to imagine that there could be some kind of well-considered congress of American artistic appreciation so that thoughtful opinions aren’t subsumed by IMDB rankings and whoever can get the most RTs. Sure! The reality, though, is that the voting is slave to deep industry machinations whether it’s publicists trying to put their own guys over, incidental members who can’t be bothered to listen to all the nominees, or anyone who fell for Al Walser. I suppose you could call this straw manning an enemy where one might not exist, but we actually know about the wonky variables tainting the process. With the Oscars, the fact that their voting electorate is mostly composed of old white dudes who never saw a Spielberg period drama they didn’t fellate; with the Grammys, it’s that anyone can cajole themselves a nomination by sending a lot of emails (Yeah, Walser didn’t actually win but I’m not convinced the overseers didn’t just get in there and juke the vote to avoid a a Jethro Tull situation.)
It’s almost like a presidential election, except there isn’t a Talking Points Memo to breathlessly report on every malfunctioning voting machine or instance of bureaucratic malfeasance—just a steady griping that something isn’t the way it should be with no real solution at hand. Obviously this matters so much less than a presidential election, why is why no one cares that much. But I pretty sincerely believe that any organization egotistical enough to declare itself the leading vanguard of approval in any field should do its damn diligence to make sure its integrity is beyond reproach, and since the Grammys seem unlikely to change any of this in my lifetime, it was easier to take the path of least resistance and just do something else rather than getting all up in arms about every time fun. beat out Frank Ocean or Miguel.
I’m not pointing fingers, but worse than the idea of sitting through the Grammys was sitting in a room with someone unable to stop talking about how stupid they were yet unwilling to turn away. Here’s a life tip free of charge: Try to ignore that which you’re automatically inclined to dislike and you’ll be a lot happier. You don’t actually need to hate-read that "Why Dirty Projectors Are Hipster Bullshit" stain of a think piece (you could say the same about this, but I’m not intentionally trying to melt your brain from stupid), hate-listen the Auto-Tuned sung-by-a-12-year-old paean to liking your parents produced by the shadowy cabal who brought us Rebecca Black, hate-watch any reality show about entitled, buffoonish rich people, or so forth. Instead, you can do stuff you might enjoy for honest reasons! Not that irony can’t be a curative or that we can’t remain immune to every "King of the Nerds" teaser" but there’s no reason to consistently put yourself through something you’re going to dislike.
Okay, I lied; I did catch one thing on the broadcast after switching over for a second, a Bud Light Platinum commercial scored by Justin Timberlake’s "Suit and Tie." That was truly terrible, though for different reasons.
Jeremy Paul Gordon is mad as hell and not going to take this anymore. You should follow him on Twitter here - @jeremypgordon
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