Monday, February 14, 2011

Grammy 2011 - Indie Music Wins, Urban Music Loses

I was all set to write an angry blog trashing Grammy voters for crapping on contemporary Black music. And yes, I still will. But can we stop for a minute and celebrate what just happened with Arcade Fire winning Album of the Year??

I'm no fan (I happen to think LCD Soundsystem is better) but I respect Arcade Fire as one of those indie bands that people seem to love. I love "Wake Up" after hearing it on the Petros and Money show. But this is a huge win not just for them, but for indie music, critical favorites and a fan base that pushed them to the heights they have now.

I was shocked their last album debuted at #1 and I was shocked they got a Grammy nod for Album of the Year in one of the weakest years in recent memory. But after a blistering performance, they lived up to Grammy tradition which usually says if you perform, you win. I loved their reaction and the fact they went right back to perform another song. That's the definition of cool and loving music.

Indie rock just took a huge step forward tonight. And throw in the fact that my new favorite band The Black Keys (above) won multiple Grammys, I think that's the biggest story of the night, not that Lady Antebellum winning 5 Grammys. If you support independent music, tonight was a good night.

Speaking of which, I don't hate Lady Antebellum despite my longtime concern about their name (Lady of the Old South pre-Civil War). I think they are earnest and their vocals are solid. But the Grammy voters used them to make a big statement - we still won't support contemporary Black music or respect them as great songwriters.

Since 2000 - there's only been 2 contemporary R&B or rap songs that won Song of the Year (Alicia Keys "Fallin" and Beyonce "Single Ladies"), none for Record of the Year and only 1 album that won Album of the Year (OutKast off the strength of "Hey Ya"). This includes epic screwjobs such as Steely Dan over Eminem in 2001, the great Ray Charles over Kanye, Usher and Alicia in 2005 and Herbie Hancock over Kanye in 2008.

Taking it back further. Michael Jackson never won Song of the Year for his solo work (Beat It won Record of the Year). Record of the Year has seen Black artists win for epic pop songs (Kiss from a Rose, Unforgettable with Nat and Natalie Cole, What's Love Got to Do With It) but not too many contemporary R&B songs.

I'm not saying every time an urban song gets popular it deserves to win nor do the winners not always deserve it. But just being nominated is no longer enough. You can't tell me that "Need You Now" will be remembered as much as Cee-Lo's "F You", one of the best kiss-offs in years. Until Black artists get respected for their hit-making and songwriting by the Grammys in the major categories, it feels like a slap in the face.

And one more thing, tell the Grammys to show an R&B category on the telecast. It's embarrassing that one of music's most important genres can't get on TV even though the genre's in creative trouble.

Congrats to winners Sade, Bruno Mars, Cee-Lo's 2 Alternative Grammys, John Legend + The Roots winning 3, Switchfoot AND Danger Mouse winning Producer of the Year. Low twos to no awards for Janelle Monae or Big Boi. Low twos to Jay-Z winning for anything BP3 related.

More tidbits

- Welcome back Dr. Dre!!!! But say hello to Skylar Grey even more. What a voice!. As pointed out by a Twitter follower, she's no rookie to being on a hit. Eminem killed it. Word to Big Proof, your boy is back.
- The power trio of Janelle Monae, B.O.B. and Bruno Mars. Bruno's voice may not be strong enough to match his energy but he knows his doo-wop very well. And seeing him on drums and Bobby Ray on guitar back up Janelle on "Cold War" gave me chills!! Way better than Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and John Mayer together a few years ago.
- Muse's performance was great but I was disappointed that people still don't know them for their earlier work. Definitely the most artistic performance of the night at that point.
- Mumford and Sons was a great surprise. Love their alternative bluegrass sound

- How in the world did the King of R&B get so boring??? Usher apparently aged overnight but if any performer could make dance moves look so easy and soulless and music devoid of any passion, he did. Sad to see this happen.
- Bob Dylan still has that growl and anger in his voice. Even though I could barely hear him perform Maggie's Farm, he still has the cool.
- I guess that Mick Jagger has a bright future ahead of him. Not bad for his 1st ever Grammy performance, which sounds weird cause I've seen Paul McCartney twice on the Grammys
- Did Lady Gaga really wear plastic booty pop pads? And what was up with that egg?? Proof to support my idea that she's Madonna's daughter ready to be reborn with her new album?

- I'll have more to say on Cee-Lo as I recap watching him and Big Boi's show Friday. But his performance with the Muppets was cool and creative even if I realize his stage presence is more cool than over the top.
- Gwyneth Paltrow, good luck on that music career. Reminds me that I can't remember a great acting performance in years outside of Iron Man. But she does have a great voice.
- Katy Perry did better than she did 2 years ago starting out with a mellow song that she could sing over but she still can't sing live over her uptempo joints.
- Adam Levine is still one of the coolest musicians around. Playing piano behind Rihanna only showed his range as a dope artist.
- Even though she wasn't there, Grammy still loves Taylor Swift. 3 commercials in one night? Overkill much?
- I'm going to give Justin Bieber his props for having the most musicianship out of any teen pop star. He's not my cup of tea but his skills will make him last. Til then, leave him for the kids.

Update: I did a guest spot on my friend Tyler's podcast Anybody Listening regarding the Grammys. Feel free to check it out.

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