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Music, subjectivity, and why I don’t watch the Grammys

A musician touts the famous Grammy Award “gramophone” trophy. This year’s Grammy ceremony aired on Sunday, January 26th. (Photo/via Wikimedia Commons)

A musician touts the famous Grammy Award “gramophone” trophy. This year’s Grammy ceremony aired on Sunday, January 26th. (Photo/via Wikimedia Commons)

By: DYLAN LEMERT
Columnist

As I write this, the 2014 Grammy Awards, that annual celebration of music industry achievements, will be airing this coming Sunday. (Meaning by the time you read this–unless the rumored second Snowpocalypse delivers in an especially big way, disabling the nation’s cable infrastructure–it will have already aired.)

Along with the Emmys, the Oscars and the Golden Globes before it, the Grammys are the sort of thing that’s a big deal to a fraction of the population but not worthy of a shoulder shrug to the rest.

I fall somewhere in between these two extremes. While I rarely watch these sorts of awards live, I normally make it a point to check out the recaps the next day. I truly care about who makes the best movie, or who is the best actor in the best TV show, because these are people doings things they love in mediums I love. (Sidenote: last year, I bravely set out to actually watch the Academy Awards in their entirety, and did okay until things turned into the “Les Miserables Sing-Along Hour.”)

Still, it’s always been my impression there’s still tradition to be had throughout much of the Oscar’s 17-hour broadcast, a piece of the Old Hollywood that reminds us how far the industry has come over the years instead of only where it’s going.

And this is partly why I don’t watch the Grammys, nor do I really even care about the Grammys. Whereas the fields of film and television at least attempt to embrace the prospects of where they’ve been, the music industry remains steadfastly in the present. Whereas the Oscars are sometimes criticized for having the “good problem” of sacrificing audience appeal for artistic prowess, the Grammys are lambasted for being nothing more than a popularity contest.

And honestly it’s a bit difficult to argue the Grammy’s aren’t a popularity contest, not when the correlation between the musicians who sell the most albums and the musicians who are nominated for the awards are so often the same artists. (Contrast this, once again, with the film industry: while Best Picture winners usually bring home a lot of money, they’re normally far and away from the highest-grossing films of the year.)

I have a theory or two for why the Grammys are a horse of a different color among the arts. One theory is that the appeal of a song wears away a bit quicker than the appeal of a movie, or even a TV show, and this I suppose is partly because a song, though unquestionably powerful, is much more brief than a two hour film. Plus, music tends to get old fast.

The other theory is more broad and obvious. Simply, it’s that music is a more subjective art than the rest. While certainly not 100% provable, the signs are there. I’ve observed how a single song can speak one thing to one person but an entirely different thing to someone else. And while I’m not at all denying other art forms as having the same ability, music does it on such a widespread basis it’s hard not to notice.

Which leads us back to the Grammys. If music is subjective, it only makes sense that an awards ceremony honoring music is quite subjective, too. The Grammys grade based on what’s cool now, what sounds good now, what’s attractive now. Unfortunately, this manner of criticism enables, akin to many of the artists currently dominating the airwaves, the putting-on of the airs of theatricality, of always having to one-up the competition to stay relevant.

It’s a shame, too, that for those of us who legitimately enjoy music and the way it never fails to move us, how the Grammy Awards seem like a tacked-on disservice instead of a credible artistic ceremony.

In short, more often than not, it would seem the only sort of noise the Grammys seem bent on producing is the same kind that will one day completely drown them out.

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