Doubting the Golden Gramophone

Having witnessed Stevie Wonder perform with the Jonas Brothers, Adam Restad questions the validity of the Grammy Awards.

I admit it: I watched the 51st Grammy Awards willingly, arm untwisted by my girlfriend. But that didn’t stop me from taking a drink of wine every time I heard mediocre music.

Afterward, I was thoroughly drunk and the evening sparked a discussion of why the Grammys are what they are. What do the Grammys mean? What does the tiny, golden phonograph even symbolize?

The Awards certainly don’t showcase the best modern music. I could name at least two or three local, Pacific Northwest groups who consistently produce mind-blowing records, but go without national recognition and will probably continue to do so for years. Instead the Grammys must focus on the “popular” aspect of the music—a chance to highlight not only musical talent, but also commercial success.

This is why I care less and less about the Grammys, if I even care at all. I heard Chuck D of Public Enemy speak recently, and he stated that music is a performance art; if you feel that you could do better than the so-called professional artist on stage, something is wrong. I cite Kid Rock, Ne-Yo, Sugarland, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, and Duffy (need I go on?) as things that have gone very wrong. If I was a respectable artist—like Thom Yorke, Robert Plant, John Mayer, or Daft Punk—up against a nomination of half-asses and flunkies, I would be offended at the 51st Grammy choices.

Another theory argues that the Grammys are a yearly chance to mix old and new. They allow our TV-driven society to compare what music was and what it has become, usually in the form of some mashup of music legends and the current slack-jawed idols. This year featured soul legend Al Green, a person known for his smooth style and essence, singing a duet with Justin Timberlake, a person known for ripping the bra off Janet Jackson. Are you seeing the problems?

The Grammys do have the ability to successfully achieve a balance between young and old. An energized and appropriate cover of the Clash’s “London Calling” performed in 2003 by Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and some guy who looked like a pirate blew me away back in high school. The actors were appropriately chosen for their own respective success and originality (Springsteen excluded, of course) similar to that of the Clash’s. But, comparing Ne-Yo to Al Green later in the 51st with a giant LCD “Motown” illuminated behind the stage (in case you forgot what good genres of music sound like) is embarrassing.

While correlations can be drawn between eras of music, the similarities are growing distant at an exponential rate. The difference between how older generations crafted their sexual and controversial material is barely recognizable in today’s pop music. Songs with such similarities like Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” and Ne-Yo’s “Sexy Love” (a song in which Ne-Yo proudly proclaims, “I erupt like a volcano and cover her with my nut”) are debatable. But in a world where Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” is one of the most popular songs among grade schoolers, I feel a digression in subtlety. As a person who still considers himself “young,” I apologize to the older generations. Our bad.

On to a fresh note of the evening: Radiohead. While, much to my chagrin, they didn’t win album of the year for In Rainbows, they got to perform with a college marching band and Thom Yorke got to have musical, pseudo-epileptic seizures on prime-time television. A win for everybody. It’s also nice to know that the old can still be recycled into progressive music and Robert Plant (much unlike Paul McCartney) can still develop new genres. Congratulations on the former Zeppelin’s Album and Record of the Year. (What the hell is the difference anyway?)

Stevie Wonder and the Jonas Brothers’ performance was the most atrocious scene of the night. (Kid Rock’s proclamation that he was the “Rock ‘n Roll Jesus” a close second.) I thank God Stevie was stricken with blindness before the Jonas brothers were even born, because if their slaughtering of his funk classic “Superstitious” wasn’t hard enough on the ears, then watching the pre-pubescent, Disney Channel boy toys writhe about with guitars twice their size would have been enough for Stevie blind himself with a piano wire.

So what now? The Grammy’s are over, and I’m positive the millions of dollars of costumes and sets will all be set fire to in the hills of Hollywood by early next week as a show of superfluousness. There are already floods of Grammy winner mixtapes on eBay and Amazon, but to what purpose? To look back on 2008 and remember what a bunch of white, tie-wearing millionaires thought popular and superior music sounded like?

Here’s an idea I started back in high school: At least once a year I make a CD or playlist of my favorite songs, date it, and hide it from myself. Over the course of the next ten years, when I actually clean my room, I have a little jewel of adolescent music taste. It’s appalling and somewhat endearing what I thought terrific as a senior in high school. What I fear most is when the mixes stop changing from year to year and I’m suck listening to Pearl Jam and the Arcade Fire for the rest of my days. I suppose then I could watch the Grammys for some ideas.

That’s it until next year. At least Lil Wayne wasn’t up for any awards. What? He was? He won? Over Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco? Aw, fuck. I quit.

Adam Restad is 22, bi-curious, and has had poems and short stories published in two editions of the crappiest literary magazine at the University of Puget Sound.