What Wayne Campbell can teach us about the Grammys
I’ve never been someone who’s cared much about award shows, maybe the Oscars from time to time, and I’ll admit one year I saw all the movies nominated for Best Picture and took an interest in it but I really have little interest in any of the others. The Grammys can be cool because of the live performances and I will usually watch a few of those clips but it puzzles me as to why so much merit is given to this awarding process when it is often so highly scrutinized. It’s easy and fairly cliché these days to hate on an award show for getting the awards wrong, but it’s a completely subjective matter and it’s hard to make judgements on things like songs, especially without having quite a bit of time to digest them. How many times have you listened to an album and liked the single the most, only to have a different song grow on you as you’re able to digest the album more? So not only are these awards based on opinions, they are based on opinions that may vary based on date. The simple solution would be to judge it by the numbers but if there’s anything time has told us about music, it’s that the some of the most important pieces of music are not what the masses are consuming, it’s the Velvet Underground or Elliot Smith, making it unjust to use the Billboard model to judge the quality of music.
If I’m being completely realistic, the Grammys (or award shows in general) are a good idea. Why wouldn’t a night of celebrating music with awards and performance be fun? If someone were to award me a Grammy, I would take it in a second and, for anyone who’s ever won or even been nominated, that’s a lifetime achievement worthy to put on your tombstone. I think the problem most of us have with these award shows is that we feel they don’t represent our opinions and are therefore meaningless, which is completely legit. Being of a subjective nature, award shows are naturally going to have some flaws, some errors in judgment, some discrepancies in perception of how art was viewed by the masses because it’s a very hard thing to record, the human emotion and what certain things mean culturally. Looking at this year’s pool, it’s obvious that The Weeknd got snubbed and, rumors aside, I really do agree that it was a snub because it seems unfathomable that someone who has been one of the biggest stars in music this year and has had one of the biggest songs in “Blinding Lights” could not have one single nomination. Clearly there is something else at play, and the rumors that the Academy didn’t want him to play the Super Bowl may be true, but either way this seems like a large lapse in the system, at least from a broad perspective.
The funny thing about me agreeing The Weeknd got snubbed is that I really don’t like his music. I don’t dislike it, I think it’s got some merit but he certainly wouldn’t be someone who’s at the top of my list for artists this year, so if it were up to me, I guess he wouldn’t be nominated either. The other mistake I think he’s making is acting like he cares so much about it when the cool move would be to not give a shit, but clearly he’s someone who cares. It seems when musicians get to a certain level and they start winning multiple Grammys that it almost becomes this competitive thing. In Taylor Swifts documentary, Miss Americana, there is a scene near the beginning where she is on the phone with her manager who is basically giving her the unfortunate news that she was not nominated in any major categories at the Grammys for her album Reputation. Swift is visibly upset by this but you can almost see the motivation building as she says to her manager “no, I’ve got to make a better record.” In those moments you see her competitive side and what makes her an artist who’s been at the top for so long, but in that moment, I felt somewhat sad knowing that was a burden she felt when creating music. This was a situation that was also viewed as a bit of a snub (though it could be argued that it wasn’t one of her best albums) but in her reality, she should always be nominated for categories like best song and best album and she felt like a failure when she didn’t make it. The sad part about this is she’s one of the most talented songwriters today and she is so focused on these goals that she is writing crowd pleasers like the song “Me!” that come off as these manufactured pop radio hits. I think the reality is that while she views this as the standard for which her career will be judged, as do many people (which is the real unfortunate thing about the Grammys), it takes away from the music because it leads to artists focusing on making a likable song rather than the best song.
It’s no new concept, "l'art pour l'art" ('art for art's sake') a term coined by Théophile Gautier back in 1835, which shares the romantic notion that we should create art for the love of it. I don’t think it’s a false thing to say that the best art usually comes from the love or the necessity to create it. I think you can even see this in a Taylor Swift, as we did in her latest album, Folklore, that is a much more raw, stripped down, personal piece of art that I think was made on her own terms and while she may win some Grammys for it, that won’t be how it’s judged, at least not by me. A lesser-known critique, Wayne Cambell, once said to his friend Garth, “Led Zeppelin didn’t write tunes that everyone liked. They left that to the Bee Gees,” and his sentiment is really the same. Art should not be created to please the masses and the art that is created to please the masses usually doesn’t last. The Bee Gees won five Grammys and Zeppelin only won once* but as time has gone on, I think you’d be hard pressed to find one person that prefers the former to the latter. The reality is, I can spout idealism about the nature of art and music all I want but award shows like the Grammys will always matter as long as money is involved. All I can say is, for those artists out there, creating music for the love, for the necessity, for the ‘sake’, you have the hearts of the fans who listen to music for the love, for the necessity, for the ‘sake’ and we sure don’t give a shit about how many Grammys you have.
*Grammy HOF Awards are not included in this statistic