Grammys need to reflect pop culture

These past few weeks, the mass media has been jam-packed with coverage of the 2011 Grammy Awards and Academy Awards. While the Academy Awards did a commendable job of reflecting viewer opinion and contemporary cultural preferences, the Grammys once again proved that they are a culturally irrelevant awards show that is deeply opposed to honoring mainstream pop icons.

The Academy Awards happened this past Sunday, and the results definitely reflected the average consumer’s taste. The King’s Speech won Best Picture and Best Actor for Collin Firth, Natalie Portman won Best Actress for Black Swan and Toy Story 3 won Best Animated Feature Film. Overall, at the end of the night, you came away with the sense that the actors and films who deserved to win won. If only you could say the same for the Grammys.

The obvious choice for Best New Artist was Justin Bieber. While there are varying views about his music, it cannot be denied that 2010 was his year. He had a No. 1 album, My World 2.0, and went from unknown to teen idol seemingly overnight. He was everywhere, almost to the point of over-saturation, and his cultural impact was a deep one. While I could maybe understand if he had lost to Florence & the Machine or Drake, two artists I’ve actually heard of before, to hear that he lost to a jazz singer named Esperanza Spalding was just laughable.

The Grammys are supposed to honor the artists that are shaping the cultural history of our generation, not artists a select few elite judges think we should like. Esperanza Spalding may be the most talented jazz singer ever, but the fact remains that the majority of viewers didn’t even knew who she was when her name was announced; I certainly didn’t.

It seems like the Grammys are morally opposed to giving a Grammy to a pop star that can be seen as cheesy or over-manufactured to music critics, but at the end of the day, what matters is the opinion of the American public, not elite music critics. That’s what’s shaping our cultural history, and awards ceremonies should reflect this.

This misplaced recognition has happened repeatedly in the last couple of years, from Kanye West losing Album of the Year to Herbie Hancock in 2008 to the Jonas Brothers losing Best New Artist to Adele in 2009. While I do like a few of her songs now, at the time, the vast majority of people did not know who Adele even was, and it was completely out of left field.

It’s almost as if the Grammys have veered too far towards the opposite side of the spectrum after they received criticism for catering too much to mass consumerism in the past. However, that doesn’t mean that they need to reward a random, unknown artist with one of the biggest awards of the night. There is a balance to be struck, and they desperately need to find it.

Several veterans of the music business have also come forward to express their disappointment with the Grammy Awards, including music executive Steven Stoute, who went so far as to print a full page advertisement in the New York Times. He pointed out how funny it was that the Grammys understand the cultural significance of artists like Justin Bieber and Eminem when it comes to advertising their awards show to increase viewership and ad revenue, but when it comes to rewarding them for their musical achievements, the Grammys choose not to recognize them.

I think the problem is that the Grammys are trying too hard to be like the Academy Awards by awarding their rewards to artists that their judges feel are talented singers and songwriters, which is usually not found in the typical mainstream pop icon. What they don’t realize is that the Oscars strike a balance between cheesy blockbusters and films of distinct artistic value. If a random indie movie that no one had heard about or even seen won Best Picture, there would also be criticism. An award should go to the artistic work that reflects mass public opinion, not private. While it’s nice that the Grammys may be trying to bring recognition to unknown artists, this type of awards ceremony is not the venue for it.

Hopefully the Grammys will get it together for next year and start choosing artists that are actually relevant to the average consumer. If not, their reputation will continue to worsen, and the Grammys will become less and less a reputable awards ceremony and more and more an inflated three hour commercial for the music industry.


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