Monday, February 14, 2011

Confusion over Arcade Fire Grammy Win is Nothing Short of Magical

Firstly, you have to go to the tumblr site accumulating the Twitter-Rage over Arcade Fire winning whatever Grammy they won.

Secondly, who over the age of 15, thinks the Grammies have any particular value?  I can remember my moment of "oh, ha ha, seriously?  I give up" when it came to the Grammies, and it came in the form of Sheryl Crow winning album of the year* back around 1994 or 1995. 

I don't know if Arcade Fire had the album of the year.  I certainly didn't listen to all of them.  Or even some of them.  The complaint was that nobody had heard of Arcade Fire.

Full disclosure: I've only seen Lady Antebellum's name in print, so I can sort of understand how you can have a question mark over your head when someone you don't know is nominated.  But of three of the top nods, Gaga, Perry and Eminem are better known for their personal lives and antics than their actual music (sorry, Marshall), and its arguable that Gaga and Perry's albums are forgettable pop, secondary to the merchandising and performance aspect of the music industry (and I am not bagging on Perry or Gaga for being very good at what they do, but when you don't include the visual, Gaga's music is pretty standard issue disco stuff and Perry sounds like any pick-of-the-week female pop artist of the past 20 years).

If you give a damn about music, at some point I can see getting tired of throwing in votes for boring records because its "good for the industry".   It isn't. 

But, if the public hasn't heard of Arcade Fire, its kind of refreshing to see that's the case.  It likely means two things.
1)  The mix of Arcade Fire's refusal to do ad spots, perform on Nickelodeon awards shows, stay out of jail, etc... has meant that they lack celebrity, which has nothing to do with quality of an album
2)  The music industry is amazingly and hopelessly splintered.  That isn't alarming, that's more or less always the state of the industry.  I don't expect for people to have ever heard of the bands I listen to  if they don't actively seek out music (ie: they wait and see what gets dropped in their laps).  A lot of people do seek out music, but as enough people do not, clever marketing has a significant effect.

Is it good for the Grammy to go to a more-Pitchfork friendly album than, say, Taylor Swift?  I doubt it helps the TV ratings much and most certainly will turn off mainstream radio listeners, but maybe its good.  American rock has been about turning to something new and different, and while Arcade Fire are establishment favorites by alt-rock standards, its a kick in the pants of another auto-tuned Lady Gaga performance with a disco beat or Eminem (who is good) winning for doing what he's been doing since I was an undergrad.

I'm always amazed by the narrow view of the listening public, but its something I got over very quickly working behind the counter of a mall record shop.  People come to music for different reasons, and none of them are bad reasons, even if it means that you wind up making regrettable purchases.  But most people generally believe that what they and their friends listen to is what everybody listens to, and that, of course, is kind of dumb.

Its wrong-headed to think that Perry or Gaga fans will be inspired to check out Arcade Fire (a band that supports concert hall shows, for those who say they've never heard of them).  But you can sit back and enjoy the confusion and remember what it was like to be sixteen and see your folks get bunged up when a band you liked made it onto TV.

It would have been far more hilarious had someone the likes of Dan Deacon won album of the year.  That would have been TV gold.

*I would apologize to Sheryl Crow fans, but somebody has to tell you.  Yes, my taste in music better than your own.**

**not really***

***well, maybe.  I mean, Sheryl Crow?  Put down the Dave Matthews and back slowly away.


Marshal said...

Are you apologizing to Marshall Mathers or me? Because I like Lady Gaga?

No apology necessary for me. I would have picked a number of albums over Lady Gaga and Mr. Mathers. I am totally amused at all the confused tweets re: Arcade Fire. I also think their record was actually was good enough to be the best. Even if I would have put Kanye at number 1.

The League said...

Oh, to MM Marshall, but I will extend an apology to you as well, if it will make your Valentine's more special.

You know I actually bought Fame Monster (I paid real American dollars and everything) on the strength of "Bad Romance", but felt Alejandro was the only other interesting track of something like 20 tracks, and it just didn't say "this was the best we could do in 2010".

I have probably listened to Kanye's album as much or more than any other album this year, and I am not a hip-hop guy.

Simon MacDonald said...

As we discussed on twitter I found it odd that people haven't heard about the Arcade Fire. Mind you I'm Canadian so I figured it was just a Canadian thing but I'm glad some of you Yanks have also heard and liked the band.

I've listened to both Katy Perry's Teenage Dream and Lady Gaga's Fame Monster. Both are pretty good pop albums but I wouldn't call them the best albums of the year. I love Gaga and she is an unstoppable machine but that album gets tired after awhile. I really liked Plastic Beach by the Gorillaz too.

Hey, I used to like the Dave Matthews Band a lot. Although, once they switched producers they really went downhill and if truth be told I think I was more a fan of Boyd's electric violin then anything else the band was doing musically. "Jimi Thing" is a great song that showcases Boyd's talents.

The League said...

yeah, it was kind of eye opening to see that a lot of folks really seem to believe that there are albums everybody likes, that (a) popular = good, (b) if you don't like it = you are dumb, (c) everything else is stupid.

I've never been able to get on board with Dave Matthews, and the inescapable nature of mid-late 90's Dave Matthews became sort of like being asked to eat Kraft Mac and Cheese at every meal for years. I've always noted that they seem very talented, but, man, its just not my thing.

I do have a hard time believing grown people with car payments voted en masse last year that Taylor Swift truly produced the best album of the year. The idea is kind of mind-boggling. Of course I have no idea who actually votes, but I find it baffling that musicians would really get that wowed by nice production on a fairly standard-issue pop voice.

Simon MacDonald said...

Not to defend the Dave Matthews Band too much but I really liked their earlier sound as it combined the Violin and Sax. Sadly they started to move away from that even before LeRoi Moore died. Now, they are just any old band.

My daughter is 6, she has all three Taylor Swift albums. That's pretty much all I need to say about that.

The League said...

At some point years ago I realized that there was this odd disconnect and that "pop music" mostly means "children's music". Its aimed at kids with disposable income, and that's fine. But it seems like this odd charade that we have to pretend that Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, the Jonas Bros., etc... and standard issue boy bands aren't, essentially, childrens' entertainers.

The press refuses to acknowledge the difference. The performers get nominated for awards alongside people who actually wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, and had themes in their music beyond "girl, this is so real". Its an odd bit of a social contract, like not wanting to tell kids that Santa isn't real.

The odd side effect is that semi-reasonable adults will go right along with it.

While Dave Matthews isn't my bag, in the world of performers, I totally respect that he and his band write and perform all their own work, and do it well. I don't have to love their stuff, but I do respect that they represent actual effort and skill.