16 February 2008

(Belated) Grammy Thoughts

Sorry I've been absent this week; a combination of homework woes and various evening commitments kept me pretty busy. Nevertheless, I wanted to reflect briefly on Sunday's Grammys (I didn't watch the broadcast, but I tried to hit the highlights on YouTube on Monday).

Most of the serious music fans I know dismiss these awards in much the same way Dan does on Sports Night:

Casey: Can I just say one more thing about the Starland Vocal Band?
Dan: Sure.
Casey: 1978, they win the Grammy for Best New Artist. You know who they beat? Elvis Costello. Now is it your belief that Elvis Costello isn't cool?
Dan: No, it's my belief that the Grammy voters aren't cool.
Casey: Now they tell me.
Now, I'm not some kind of Starland Vocal Band fan, and they're obviously no Elvis Costello. For that matter, I agree that the Grammy voters aren't cool; of course they pass over all kinds of worthy music. But that doesn't mean the Grammys aren't important or that the voters don't often get it right.

Crass commercialism and assorted no-talent ass-clowns (her, not him) not withstanding, hits are, to paraphrase Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock and Soul, what everyone goes around humming. He continues

Singles are the essence of rock and roll. They occupy the center of all the pop music that came after it. They're the stuff of our everyday conversations and debates about music, the totems that trigger our memories. Everyone who listens with half an ear must know this.
Pleny of people are still writing hits that matter, singles that you go around not only humming but also pondering. You probably don't need me to tell you that Kanye West is one such artist. Now, I'm not a huge fan of that "Stronger" tune from his most recent album (partly because I heard it dozens of times in the otherwise awesome hostel I stayed at in Toronto over Thanksgiving), but I thought his performance of "Stronger" and "Hey Mama" was pretty fantastic. The latter was of course touching given his family's recent tragedy, and having Daft Punk there in person really added some drama to the former. (Incidentally, does anyone have any Daft Punk recommendations for me? I kinda hate most of what I've heard by them, but they seem too interesting to give up on.)

Anyway, I think anyone who's listened to Kanye "with half an ear" realizes he's worthy of most of the accolades, is my point, and that doesn't become less true just because the Grammy voters like him. Diddo Amy Winehouse, although her appeal is more purely musical, whereas Kanye forces us to think as well. I can't get enough of that hair, though.

For more Grammy commentary, check out this thoughtful piece by Ben Ratliff. His comparison of River to Getz/Gilberto is illuminating, plus "some kind of strange, subconscious vernacular" is the best way I've ever heard Wayne Shorter's playing described.

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