The Grammys have gotten a lot of criticism in the past week and a half for Arcade Fire taking home Album of the Year for The Suburbs and Esperanza Spalding for Best New Artist. Some have accused the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the organization behind the awards) of being "out of touch," “elitist” and “full of hypocrisy.” While I won’t say that I haven’t had my issues with how the Grammys or organized (I think, in the past, they've gone too far in the commercial direction), I also recognize that IT IS NOT A POPULARITY CONTEST, nor should it be.
Do you recall seeing any Grammy ballots open to the public? No. Do Grammy nominations directly reflect the Billboard charts for any given year? No. The awards are not fully based on what made the most money, got featured in the most ads, got the most radio play or had the most iTunes downloads of the year. Does commerciality play a part? Of course it does. Almost all of the albums nominated for Album of the Year peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Top 200. Can you guess which one didn’t? No, it wasn’t Arcade Fire, it was Lady Gaga . Gasp! Shocking (I was surprised too when I looked up chart information, truth be told). While this may as strongly indicate the state of album sales, to deride Arcade Fire or Esperanza Spalding for not being the “commercial” choice is ridiculous.
$40,000 for a full-page ad deriding the Academy for the awards not going to Eminem and Justin Bieber is a waste of money. Just because an artist sold the most doesn't mean they should take the biggest reward. I'm pretty the paycheck should be reward enough. Does the biggest grossing movie take home the Academy Award? Rarely.
I also fail to see how the biggest award of the night not going to the obvious choice ONE year indicates an issue of the awards show. Who won last year? Taylor Swift. Is she a somewhat underground artist that “no one has heard of.” Hell. NO! I think it’s good that there’s some balance in where the awards go every year. A commercial choice one year, a critical choice another, something in between other years.
I also think people need to get past this mindset of “I haven’t heard of it, so it must not be good.” Seriously? If something comes on the radio and the DJ names an artist who’s unfamiliar to you, do you also change the station, assuming it must suck? Ihope not. I see unfamiliar artist names as an opportunity. I love music, and if it’s new and unfamiliar, it’s a chance to find my new favorite thing.
Let’s say the Grammys were going for the clear choice critically (and not commercially); Arcade Fire was the clear winner. Even ignoring indie-focused publications like Hype Machine, Pitchfork (who didn’t even rank the album within their top ten) and Under the Radar, the band had more top ten inclusions than any other artist for 2010 and was only topped in number one ratings by Kanye West’s album, which was ineligible for this year’s Grammy Awards.
Regardless of all this is, one should remember that the Grammys are voted on by insiders, by the musicians and artists themselves, and NOT the public. Therefore, they are not necessarily going to reflect public sentiment, or your own personal tastes. For that reason, one should not get angry regardless of who wins what award. Does a Grammy validate your favorite artists or albums?It shouldn’t, you should love it because you love it, not because some institution or a publication said it was or wasn’t good. Get angry when the People’s Choice Award goes to the album that wasn’t the biggest commercial success of the year.
By the way, does anyone else find it strange or ironic that the Grammys seem to get the same amount of criticism when the winners of majors awards are more commercial as when they're not? Can't please them all, I guess.