Some thoughts about this year’s Grammys:
Adele won six awards Sunday night, and, frankly, she deserved them.
Anyone who can sing like she does and write songs of that quality that appeal to the mainstream deserves recognition. Top 40 radio is better off with singers and songwriters like her in its otherwise tepid mix.
I love the Foo Fighters live, but I rarely listen to their records — a song here and there, and usually from their first two albums. I have no issue with them getting five Grammys, but I wish the academy would dig deeper into the “rock” category and at least nominate real “rock” bands.
For the best rock album, the Foos were up against Wilco (OK, fine), the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jeff Beck and Kings of Leon. Eeesh.
The show is obviously more about airing as many live performances as possible, which is one way to promote new songs/albums and stimulate sales of older material. I’m fine with cutting back the award presentations, but this year there were too few.
This year’s live performances were all over the place. I’m fine with Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) getting best new artist, especially given the field he was up against (Skrillex, Nicki Minaj), but if you’re going to ordain a newcomer, why not showcase his music in prime time?
Instead, we got way too much Chris Brown and a heavy dose of the Foo Fighters. That Nicki Minaj performance was a spastic, confusing mess. I thought CBS had cut the feed and switched back to regular prime-time programming.
The other colossal mess: the pairing of Rihanna with Coldplay, who showcased the single “Paradise,” a song that sounded like it was written in the limo on the way to the ceremony.
Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to Whitney Houston was stirring. Carrie Underwood’s duet with Tony Bennett was nice, too. The “American Idol” franchise has delivered some legitimate stars into the industry, none better than Hudson and Underwood.
The idea of a Beach Boys tribute looked good on paper, but the design was flawed from the start. The pairing of Maroon 5 and Foster the People was bad before it got started. And it only got worse. Mark Foster looked like a 15-year-old waiting to hear if he’d passed the test for his learner’s permit. And nothing about Maroon 5 even slightly evokes the sounds and styles of the Beach Boys.
The BBs will be on tour later this year, with Brian Wilson. Not sure that shaky performance of “Good Vibrations” is going to stimulate ticket sales as much as hoped. Mike Love looked sinister; Wilson looked bored and slightly confused.
Some of the elder statesmen did just fine.
Loved the Glen Campbell tribute but only when he was out there singing. Best moment of the night. Bruce Springsteen and the E Streeters opened the show with another stock rock anthem, this one about the world’s current economic crisis and what it’s doing to the poor and the middle-class. The 1 percent serenading the 99 percent.
Paul McCartney performed twice: accompanied by Diana Krall and Joe Walsh as he sang “My Valentine,” a track off his new album, a collection of American songbook standards (which will no doubt be up for a 2012 Grammy); and then backed by an arsenal of guests (Springsteen, Walsh, Dave Grohl) to close the show with some incendiary Beatles music, the end of “Abbey Road.”
Taylor Swift sang again, trying to pull off some retro/hillbilly “Hee Haw” rendition of her uber-poppy tune “Mean.” Given her previous Grammy singing experiences, Swift’s presence was ironic on a night that honored Houston, one of the most dynamic vocalists ever in the Top 40 world.
But ironies abounded: The late Etta James, one of the best singers ever, got a few minutes of love when Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt sang “Sunday Kind of Love.” And all seems to be forgiven and forgotten between the Recording Academy and Chris Brown, who infamously beat up his former girlfriend, Rihanna, before the 2009 awards show. He performed twice Sunday and won a Grammy. Hard to respect anything he does anymore.
If the Grammy show is a wide-angle, panoramic snapshot of the music industry, this year’s show captured this about the industry in the year 2012, and it’s a familiar portrait: The days of career-long legends seem over.
So are the days of multi-mega-platinum stars like Houston. So are the days of enduring mainstream music. The era that produced the likes of the Beach Boys and the Beatles is long gone. So is the era that made Houston a wealthy superstar.
Instead, these are the days of so much artifice and so many concoctions. Some of what gets popular and into the mainstream is legitimate (Adele, Alicia Keys, Foo Fighters). Some is at least entertaining. The rest feels fleeting and aimless — dogs in clown suits fetching Frisbees and chasing their tails.
During his show at Knuckleheads on Friday night, the decorated songwriter Jimmy Webb cracked a little wise about the songwriting of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and how their lyrics and melodies and vocals abandoned the standards that applied to his world, where great songwriters crafted the songs and great singers sang them.
He also recalled another ceremony: the Songwriter Hall of Fame induction in 1992. Irving Gordon, who wrote the standard “Unforgettable,” had previously excoriated bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for what rock music had done to the art and craft of songwriting. At the songwriters induction, where Billy Joel was the honoree, Gordon took up the fight again, flaying contemporary songwriters for favoring percussion and noise over the true charms and virtues of a good song: the communion of refined lyrics and melody.
Gordon was eventually ushered half-forcefully off the stage by Sammy Cahn, another songwriting legend, and dismissed afterward by some for being out of touch.
Sunday’s Grammy show had that kind of effect on me, except many of us watching regard the songbooks of the Beatles, the Stones and the Beach Boys and careers like Campbell’s as the high standards that are now ignored and considered antiquated.
After watching some of those live performances, especially that gargantuan mess of a hard-rock/dubstep performance among Deadmau5, the Foo Fighters, Chris Brown and Lil Wayne, it was hard not to feel out of touch and discouraged about what’s going on at the heart of mainstream music.
Who will be the elder statesmen/women in 2050?
Inversely, Sunday’s show was a reminder that there are talented songwriters and singers and musicians out there, on the fringes, creating and crafting songs that deserve to be heard and remembered.
The responsibility is upon us feeling disconnected to so much of what is new and mainstream to find them — online and in local music venues — and give them their greatest reward: attention and support.