Two years ago, Steve Stoute, music industry mogul and owner of the Translation advertising agency, bought space in the New York Times to run an open letter to NARAS, who runs the Grammys, taking them to task for overlooking hip-hop. I shared, and share, his sentiment that the Grammys are out of touch, though my thoughts on the matter—as briefly outlined in a blog post about his letter—also revolved around the question, “who cares about the Grammys?” I implored Stoute, or someone else, to start a proper competitor award show. I also suggested that maybe we could just stop caring about superlatives from a dinosaur organization and get on with making jams.
The latter idea sounds great, but it’s unrealistic. Everyone likes affirmation, and what better affirmation than institutional affirmation? In that post, I refer to the Golden Globes and perhaps they are a good analog for what could exist. This year’s Golden Globes especially were playful, funny and fun, and seemed to give awards where they were relevant and due. But they’re still seen as the B-Team to the Oscars. And perhaps that’s why they feel more on the nose: there’s less pressure to be right. But forget right, the Grammys sometimes are wrong and in space. Herbie Hancock winning best album in 2008 was laughably off the mark, and Stoute is correct—that needs to change. As the underground and the mainstream continue to commingle, and album sales drop, it’s much easier to identify the zeitgeist and chances are, it raps. Stoute made this point in 2011, and it’s still true. But what feels truer to me now is that need for recognition. Perhaps my disinterest in the awards two years ago was my own flippancy, perhaps it is more of the melding of channels, but if there is a dominant force in music, it should be identified and rewarded by the Grammys, even if we only care about them because they were grandfathered in.
If no once-a-year award show has popped up to usurp the Grammys in the last two years, what has changed is the way we receive affirmation. Certainly, social media existed in 2011, but it has run rampant. We’re all addicted to our smartphones because they provide us with a little jolt of energy every time someone digitally does something to us. An artist’s success is measured in Twitter followers, and while that’s not quite the same thing as merit, it’s certainly a kissing cousin. But if that artist is constantly being reassured via Instagram comments, a verified Twitter account, Facebook likes, etc., why do they need NARAS to bestow an irrelevant prize on them? Shouldn’t a niche audience’s nonstop love supersede a golden gramophone? I don’t know where I stand on the value to humanity of likes and follows, but I know I look at my phone a lot. If we’re now conditioned for routine doses of digital affection through iPhone ding, the Grammys are like the biggest ding in the world.
I guess I care about the Grammys. I’m going to watch, as I do every year. Frank Ocean is performing and I’m excited to see that. I hope he wins. I hope Bruce Springsteen wins. I wish there was a rapper to root for in one of the big categories but there’s not, so instead, I hope Fun. loses. There’s something to be said for the worth of villains as much as heroes. And if we’re out there every day giving instant feedback to those we love (see Nathan Heller’s article on the internet getting too nice), there’s some low-level schadenfreude to watching those we hate lose. So is it that the Grammys have lost touch, or that the Grammys are irrelevant? Are those the same thing? It’s that distinction that I no longer care about. The Grammys used to matter and maybe that’s why they still do.