I was wrong about you, Grammys. Dead wrong. And I couldn’t be more pleased to admit it. (My pre-Grammy post from Sunday. Go easy on me.)
On the Monday after, America (read: Twitter & Facebook) was up in arms: no, not over increasingly violent rhetoric across party lines, nor our involvement in a cripplingly expensive, hopeless war–that’s so last year–but over the fact that Sunday night, the best album of the year actually walked away with the Grammy for Album of the Year. You’d think this would happen more often than not on “music’s biggest night,” but in an era rife with rampant sampling and digital drowning, popular music is stuck in neutral at an all-time creative low. (Look no further than the Glee cast scoring a nomination for covering quite possibly the biggest karaoke cliché known to man, Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin”.) Frighteningly, it appears the masses were more than content with this standstill; but when that very complacence was compromised at the end of Sunday’s Grammy ceremony when–gasp–a Canadian indie band shocked the music world by toppling blockbuster heavyweights like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, all hell broke loose.
Although they’ve been selling out shows around the world for the better part of a decade and will return to Coachella in April as headliners (good luck getting tickets if you haven’t already, scalpers probably enjoyed the Grammys twice as much as I did), it was almost surprising the Montreal-based Arcade Fire didn’t find themselves contending for Best New Artist. I mean, who else knew that over the past seven years, they’ve masterfully crafted three critically acclaimed albums and an EP (check ‘em out, they’re on iTunes and everything!), their 2004 debut Funeral being a near-unanimous inclusion among critics’ “Best of the Decade” lists? (Side note: Justin Bieber was a wee lad of 10-and-a-half-when this album was released in his native Canada. Never mind knowing that they exist, how many “Beliebers” do you think even knew the Arcade Fire were Canadian?) Unfortunately, fairweather music fans the nation over revealed their true colors by the thousands, putting respect for a cultural form and their own integrity on the back burner Monday in a display that would’ve made Hosni Mubarak blush.
“How can a group I’ve NEVER heard of win Album of the Year? Who is Arcade Fire?” asked Twitter user @didleigh, a self-described “Sweet, petite Southern belle surviving in the frozen tundra of Idaho” whom I must confess, until this morning, I’d never heard of either. (It gets worse. Looks like she”s a teacher. Some lucky kids.)
“Shut the fuck up about Arcade Fire. I had never even heard of them before tonight so they must suck,” bemoaned @username_tj (points for effort on that handle, especially for someone who can’t spell shit–I mean fuck). How could this possibly happen?! TJ had never heard of them! (I’m wagering he’s never heard of Django Reinhardt or The Tallest Man on Earth, who therefore also must suck.) And at the Grammys, of all places–a beacon of artistic gravitas that chose to honor a song which features the lyrics “Daisy dukes, bikinis on top / Sun-kissed skin, so hot, we’ll melt your popsicle” from a borderline-animatronic singer best remembered this past year for giggling obnoxiously and flaunting her humongous tits like a circus attraction… and that was only on Sesame Street.
“WHO THE FUCK? Grammys have something against famous people,” pined @xNachoSpears. Nice observation. Had Britney’s distant cousin/favorite breakfast dish noticed Lady Gaga’s aptly title Fame Monster took Best Pop Vocal Album? And wasn’t that Snooki on the red carpet? Refresh my memory, what was she nominated for tonight? Spoken Word Gargled Through Vomit? (If this category existed, Bob Dylan would’ve had it locked up like Bernie Madoff.)
“WHO THE FUK IS ARCADE FIRE? STOP RIGGIN THIS SHIT…. U LOST MANY VIEWERS,” @xXDevXx directly tweeted to the official Grammy Twitter account. This was one of few angry tweets published today on the timely Tumblr site ‘Who Is Arcade Fire??!!?’ that actually resonated with me upon reading… because until Sunday night, I would’ve agreed the Recording Academy was 100% committed to luring as many prospective customers for their deep-pocketed title sponsors as possible, even at the expense of its credibility as a judge of its own medium. One glance at the nominees was all the convincing I needed.
…and “Never heard of Arcade Fire. Don’t do hippie shit. My boy Slim had that locked up. It’s like Smirnoff winning Vodka of the year or something,” chimed @GooseDouche, staying true to his reputation as a douchebag who apparently really likes Grey Goose vodka.
It doesn’t stop there– actual mainstream musicians jumped on the pile, too. Sellout poster children Fall Out Boy oh-so-eloquently tweeted “LOL @ all the nobodies at the Grammy’s. wft? ARCADE FIRE? i’m sorry it should’ve won the stupid name award.” Grammatical impotence aside–it’s Twitter, I get it, everyone gets a free pass to talk like a moron, and illuminating this problem would only take away from my argument–but who would they have preferred? It’s not like pomade n’ piercing addict Pete Wentz’s soon-to-be ex-wife Ashlee Simpson lip-synced a “greatest hits” compilation straight onto Walmart shelves this year. (Going out on a limb here, but I wouldn’t count on two thirds of Wentz’s fanbase knowing the word “Antebellum”; they either haven’t gotten that far in social studies yet or dropped out.)
And then there’s my favorite gaffe of the night, from none other than Rosie O’Donnell: “album of the year? ummm never heard of them ever.” Don’t flatter yourself, Rosie– you’ve clearly never heard of a gym membership or subtlety, but those still seem to be pretty trendy. It’s not like you’re Oprah. (We know damn well–damn well–her majesty of the Midway wouldn’t be caught dead spouting such stupidity, regardless of whether she’d heard of a band or not. And this is why Oprah is Oprah and you’re now relegating to riding the short bus in Hallmark movies.)
Not to go all Rob Gordon on everyone’s ass, but knowing every word to ‘Teenage Dream’ or ‘Telephone’ doesn’t mean you know jack shit about music; if you’d been fortunate enough to have The Suburbs crammed down your throat for the last year, you’d know those words too. The truth of the matter is this: the Arcade Fire make music for people who want to listen to it, not to push product. Each and every one of their songs is written, played and engineered to evoke the deepest, most authentic of human emotions; when paired with their often politically or religiously driven themes, this results in a completely visceral listening experience. Their brutal, dystopian lyrics question the establishment, from government to religion to even pop music (the song ‘Antichrist Television Blues,’ off 2007′s Neon Bible is perceived by many as calling out pop star Jessica Simpson’s father for exploiting his daughter’s talents–and innocence–for his own benefit). As this country finds itself idling at a harrowing crossroads, it’s only appropriate we recognize artists–be they musicians, filmmakers, authors–who promote awareness and truth. It suggests we’re actually learning something, that we’re conscious of our surroundings. Who gives a crap about looking hot for boys right now? How many different ways do we really need to be informed the club is poppin’ tonight? The Arcade Fire don’t sell records with skin tight catsuits and cleavage, showering themselves in bodily fluids for shock value or recklessly propagating anger and hatred. They sell records the old fashioned way: with their unique brand of music. (Is that really such a hard concept to so many people to comprehend?) Seeing this band live–and I implore each and every one of you who’ve yet to–is, simply put, a remarkably spiritual experience. Seriously, it will change you. Maybe I’m wrong, but I fail to see even the remote possibility of a Katy Perry show accomplishing this feat. These factors, my friends, are why The Suburbs is Album of the Year.
I suppose what makes this all so deliciously ironic is the fact that Win Butler & company have likely heard ‘California Gurls’ or ‘Bad Romance’ more times than they’d like to admit. We all have; and whether we like to admit it or not, painfully processed pop pablum is virtually unavoidable in this day and age, unless you’re blessed enough to be locked away in solitary confinement or down in a canyon with your arm lodged between a rock and a canyon wall. I haven’t willingly listened to the radio in years, but I’d bet a pretty penny I could turn it on this very moment and find a Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, or Eminem song blaring over the airwaves within seconds (assuming I didn’t tune in during the dreaded “universal commercial break”). Not to discredit Ms. Perry, but I’d be shocked to learn she’d been rocking out to ‘City With No Children’ or ‘We Used to Wait’ while writhing her way around the globe with new hubby Russell Brand or bathing in cotton candy in between shows.
As far as the arts go, awards should be given for quality and not quantity. If all awards went to the top sellers, Justin Bieber would’ve won Best New Artist in a landslide over an accomplished yet unknown jazz musician in Esperanza Spalding, and the Twilight cast would be basking in multiple Oscar nominations. Sadly, a momentous sign of progress in our cultural evolution has yielded further evidence of a society divided: one group of people willingly approaching the unknown and digesting it to better understand, the other stubbornly sticking merely to what it’s used to, wallowing in its own blissful ignorance in lieu of education. A particularly disturbing example of this casual blindness is Bieber’s legions of hormonal tweens launching an all-out assault on Esperanza Spalding’s Wikipedia page in the wake of her incredible upset (insert vigilant Tea Partier reference). Somehow, I fail to envision the Arcade Fire faithful (obviously, far more than many appear to think) storming Lady Gaga’s page with inflammatory slogans; if anything, she brings enough criticism upon herself with a fairly obvious desperation for attention and an unwillingness to distance herself from her predecessor, Madonna–which is perfectly fine, I’m not here to cast stones. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got plenty of Gaga in my music library (I’ve even seen her perform), and I have nothing but respect for her contribution to the zeitgeist. It’s saddening, however, the number of people too obtuse to open their minds and embrace something different, let alone try.
There’s no shame in admitting you haven’t heard of the Arcade Fire, and it’ll never be too late. This is the beauty of art. (Thanks to The King’s Speech, I’ve just recently fallen head over heels in love with Mozart’s Clarinet concerto in A major, which was written in 1791.) But if you haven’t ventured outside your own preferences to at least give them a listen, you have no grounds to throw them under the bus. That being said, I’d like to extend my sincerest congratulations to The Arcade Fire and Esperanza Spalding (not to mention the other winners & nominees), and by all means, the Recording Academy for taking their role in making a cultural example seriously. Less than 24 hours ago, I was openly deriding the Grammys as a quantity-over-quality orgy of emptiness, but perhaps I need to reconsider.
The Arcade Fire may have walked away with the top honor Sunday night, but whether you’re ready to accept it or not, the big winner was music as a whole.