Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Why I didn't review the Grammys

People wonder why I didn’t review the Grammys. Partly because I didn’t watch them. I was glad Bruno Mars won a bunch. I love Bruno Mars. But for the most part, I feel like the Grammys are a party I’m not invited to.  At best I’m welcome to crash and stand off to the side and feel old.

A few years ago I was writing a screenplay about the music business. So for research I wrangled a VIP ticket to the American Music Awards. After the telecast there was a big on-site party, which I attended. I was the only person there not in a velvet suit or leather. I wore a sportsjacket. I must’ve looked like a narc. I spoke to a number of the rock stars and the lucid ones gave me some good information for my screenplay. I couldn’t tell you who they were and even if I could you probably wouldn’t know who they were.  But they were big, trust me. 

That’s the thing that struck me most. The shelf-life of most rock stars is probably less than a porn star’s. It takes a real effort to keep up with who’s at the top of the pops. And for years and years I did. But eventually I just said, “this is like keeping track of CW shows.” So I stopped. And within two years I knew practically nobody.

Someone could win nine Grammys one year and be playing at Six Flags Magic Mountain the next.

My heart goes out to these performers because the music industry is a revolving door. And very few performers even get to where they’re in the sweet spot where Grammys are even possible. How many American Idols have been dumped by their record labels? 80,000,000 people vote for these nimrods and two years later only six buy their new album.

So seeing who wins Grammys this year is like seeing who is the big winner on Bingo night. Next week there will be another Bingo night and next year there will be more Grammys. Half the 2019 winners are probably playing small clubs right now and half the 2018 winners will be taking their place.

Who can keep up? It’s hard enough to keep track of which free agents in baseball will go to which clubs and what night SUPERGIRL is on.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

It's not a universal rule, though. You need to look at the technical awards - the sound engineers, for example (a friend was nominated in this category about 15 years ago, and was thrilled because it was the year of O, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? and he got to see Ralph Stanley perform live (though he also noted no one but him seemed to know who he was). My favorite, which I wound up writing about for Scientific American, was the year that some academic experts won their Grammy for converting and restoring an old wire recording of Woody Guthrie performing live. They had to do a lot of things to correct the artifacts created by the very old wire...but the result is we now have a live recording of Woody Guthrie. I thought it was super-cool. It was the year Amy Winehouse was big in the main awards.


Justin Russo said...

Not everyone can be Ella Fitzgerald or Tina Turner (thankfully)!

Mike Barer said...

I never thought I would be as out of touch with the current music scene as I am today. I think much of that is because nothing seemed new and exciting to me in the 90s.

Pete Grossman said...

Yeah the music biz. Used to love it. Was in it. It was exciting! But soon I was calling the Grammys the "Grannies," because man, your act gets old, quick. Delighted about Bruno Mars as well. He defies the odds and spans generations. He's a great example of when things break your way, be grateful.

Anonymous said...

I used to keep up with music too. But hand cranking my victrola was a bother.


Anonymous said...

All Bruno Mars ever sings about is getting his rocks off. Nothing else.

Mike McCann said...

Baby boomers feel disconnected because contemporary music is not OUR music. Much as we wrestled control of the Grammys away from the Sinatra/Mancini crowd during the '60s, we're now a full generation past the heyday of Beatles-Eagles-Elton-Simon-Toto.

Since nobody really "buys records" anymore, let's define them as "the music consumers" -- and that's folks 12-30 years of age.

As a former DJ, I am sure you, like I, heard station executives quote research claiming people's musical tastes were firmed in their late teens and early 20s.

That *was* us -- it's now our kids and, increasingly, grandkids.

As long as I can punch up 60s on 6, 50s on 5, Underground Garage and RichBroRadio.com on air or online, I'm happy.

It's now someone else's turn to dominate the music awards.

ScarletNumber said...

I think out of the four major awards shows, the Grammys are the one that is least in tune with popular and critical culture, especially when you have magazines such as Billboard and Rolling Stone covering the industry on a consistent basis.

RyderDA said...

I couldn't agree more, and could also say the exact same thing about the Academy Awards. Who even remembers the Best Picture nominees for 2 years ago?

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

My "go-to" line while watching the Grammys when my daughter was 15 years old:

"Which one is Ringo?"

Guaranteed to produce an explosion of eye-rolls and "Awwww, DAD!"

A. W. Carter said...

I watch the show as a one night course in what's supposedly going on in music these days. They used to go through rock, jazz, opera, the works. There's always a few performances worth the show. But the voting is still skewered older and is almost always a few years behind.

I think the Beatles won after they already broke up, and Dylan after he went Christian (exaggeration). But it's always behind the times. Love Bruno Mars, but he is so 2015.

Andrew said...

The person who has won the most Grammys in history? George Solti, the conductor. Yay, George!

How many people even know who he is, or which orchestra he is most associated with?

Mike Bloodworth said...

I never understood the so called "generation gap" until I became an adult. I honestly thought Hip-hop was a fad and would die out in a few years. Boy, was I wrong! I simply can't relate to most of today's music. And even the few good songs have a "been there, done that" kind of feel. Besides, the Grammys are a joke anyway. Elvis only won for his gospel records. The Beatles won a few, but many of them are post-breakup, honorary awards. Does anyone remember Best New Artist, The Starland Vocal Band?
And how many Christopher Cross albums do you own?

CopleyScott said...

I think the Song of the Year Grammy should go to the nominee with the fewest songwriters. It really took eight people to write Bruno Mars's "That's What I Like"? No wonder it sounds like homogenized retro crap.

Gary Benz said...

Not sure it was the sports jacket that made you "look like a narc." I think it was using words like "narc." :-)

Douglas Trapasso said...

Not completely on point, admittedly, but I read an interview with some music executive last week, whose contribution, apparently, is pricing even upper deck arena seats at $100 plus for concerts. Here's the money quote (which didn't elicit any followup from either reporter or subject:

"The average fan only goes to two or three shows a year."

Pretty sad that a music bigwig (TM) is so blase' about that stat. I would love to know what that number was a decade or two ago.

McAlvie said...

I haven't gotten excited about the Grammys for a long time. I like music, I even like some of the contemporary stuff; but I noticed years ago that the Grammys tend to be geared towards a younger crowd. I know there are all kinds of exceptions, and I know that I once WAS, that younger crowd; but these days I'd have to sit through a lot of stuff I don't care about before they got to the one or two things that interested me. This is not a criticism, I'm not denouncing contemporary music and my own tastes are pretty eclectic. We like what we like.

Hamid said...

Bruno Mars annoys me. There's just something so smug about him.

If you want some tips

Peter said...

If you want some tips on great artists to check out, may I recommend Imelda May, Gin Wigmore and Halestorm. All fabulous.

Roger Owen Green said...

The good stuff shows up in the news, especially on CBS, which carried it.
Big story is after the show, when a Grammy official that suggested that women needed to work harder (4 of the 5 best song noms were by women, and Ed Sheeran won)

Dr Loser said...

Well, making music is not the same as selling music.

It's not the same thing as comedy, where you have to do both at the same time. (And chew gum. And walk or fart, depending upon which LBJ injunction you choose to follow.)

Buttermilk Sky said...

Andrew: Sir Georg Solti, Hungarian-born naturalized British music director of the Chicago Symphony and, for a time, the Royal Opera House. More Grammys than you can shake a baton at. Do they still give them for classical music, even at some daytime ceremony? (Reminds me of the early-morning awards event on FRASIER because Kenny didn't book the room in time.)

Yeah, I pretty much tuned out of popular music when Talking Heads broke up. I still try to hear the new people on YouTube if they're recommended, but I haven't become a fan of anything.
But unlike Nikki Haley, I know music has been "political" since Bing Crosby sang "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

Ralph C. said...

I listen to what I like, that’s all.

EDD said...

I do! Sir George Solti of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I lived near Chicago when he was Director. But today you told me something I never knew. How exciting!

Mark said...

It's a rare listener who likes much beyond their own comfort zone -- when you started listening, plus/minus 10 years or so. My window is about '65-'85.

When my daughter has top-40 on, my sport is to figure out which ones would've made it In My Day, you know, when music was still good.

Bruno for sure, probably Ed Sheeran, Taylor, I believe... a lot of the rest is too homogenized and factory-assembled to make much impression on me.

Max Clarke said...

The music business really is a revolving door and I discovered that decades ago in college.

One of the students in my suite in the dorm was the son of a record producer from Nashville. Each year, the exec would send his son the Grammy ballot. The reason was that the exec did not know who to vote for. The artists and bands changed so much, he just let his son handle it.

But I'm not current on the top names anymore. Did not watch the Grammys, as usual. Bruno Mars won a bunch of awards for his album, 24K Magic. I did not learn that for a day or two, and was not familiar with the album.

A shame. The day before the Grammys, while taking my walk near Berkeley, I photographed the license plate 24K MGK.
I had photographed the next evening's Album Of The Year and never known it.

Don R said...

Great joke today by Jaybeaux Jones on Sirius 70s on 7. "The only people I recognize at the Grammys anymore are all in the "In Memoriam."

Tom said...

The older I get, the more I agree with the old saying that the music you liked in high school is the music you'll like best for the rest of your life. For me: Dylan, Bowie, Elton John, Larry Lujack-era AM Top 40 radio... I never heard of 90 percent of this year's Grammy nominees (and didn't watch the show) but I am also definitely not the target demographic.

sanford said...

First of all they only give about 8 or 9 awards on the show. The rest are given on the night before I think. Good idea to mainly have people perform. I am 70 and I am out of touch with a lot of 80's and up music. But even if I don't listen to some of the individuals and groups I at least have heard of maybe 70 per cent of them. As for Douglas wondering how many concerts people went to a decade or so ago. I don't know if the exec was right but everything being relative concerts where probably expensive a decade or so ago. I saw the Rolling Stones in 1975. I was living in Indiana for a while and saw Steve Martin in 76 or 77. After that I don't think I saw any show until I saw Springsteen in 2003. 75 dollars for that one. Saw him 2009 those ticket I believe were 125 and then saw him in 2016. Those seats were 150. Can't imagine when he announces his very last tour what the ticket prices will be.

Pat Reeder said...

I have to keep up with modern pop culture for my job, and I have a record collection that is expansive, to say the very least. It includes every genre of music imaginable, from country to classical to Celtic and even obscure niche genres that don't start with "c." My wife is a retro jazz singer, and I help produce and market her recordings; I'm the former record librarian and music coordinator for one of the biggest radio syndication companies in the world; and I write about music. But even I thought the Grammy Awards this year were so awful, I turned it off 2/3rds of the way through (I later fast-forwarded on the DVR to see if there was anything worth watching. Precious little.)

My wife is a Grammy voter, and she conscientiously listens to every nominee in the final contest and all the entries up for consideration on the initial ballot in her category (Traditional Pop Vocal). But it's so discouraging, she's thinking of dropping out. There were at least two major categories she skipped voting in because she thought nothing even deserved a nomination, much less an award.

It's so predictable, I said when I saw the first ballot that the Tony Bennett 90th birthday tribute was such a lock to win her category, they'd probably already mailed it to him (it won.) It was just a bunch of stars, most with no feel for standards, doing either standards or their own songs again, followed by Tony doing three tunes he's already recorded 100 times. My wife's album made it to several "Best of 2017" lists, but like most indie artists under the current system, she had no chance. When the head of NARAS suggested that women "step up" and try harder, she wrote on Facebook, "Thanks, I'll try harder to sing standards better than Bob Dylan."

There is a ton of great new music being made by indies (we are friends with dozens of them), but indie artists don't have a prayer. Some are petitioning NARAS to reform the rigged system, which you probably don't realize allows insiders to pick nominees who might not even have made the top 15 vote-getters and reject artists who made the top five. (https://www.change.org/p/recording-academy-members-suggestions-to-improve-the-grammy-awards-process ) All the vast diversity of music that used to be showcased on the Grammy telecast is now shunted off to an afternoon ceremony that isn't even televised, leaving primetime for major label, lowest-common-denominator crap.

And no, it's not just that you're an old fogey; modern music really is objectively worse than it used to be: https://youtu.be/oVME_l4IwII

No wonder ratings were down 21% just from last year. Even many young fans would rather listen to the Beatles on vinyl than this steaming garbage. Want to increase ratings? Air the afternoon ceremony instead (I've attended it live, it's quite good). And stop nominating production jobs as "Song of the Year."

Douglas Trapasso said...

@Pat Reeder - or even split it into two separate shows, like the Tony Awards do now - let VH1 or A & E air the “pre-game”

@sanford - Someone better than me at math ought to reverse engineer today’s average ticket price and adjust for inflation back to ‘08, ‘98, ‘88, etc.

Mike Doran said...

Old Man Talk (and Ken - welcome):

I was born in 1950, at the start of The Great Transition: TV was taking over from Radio, Pop Music was moving in on Swing (Rhythm & Blues and its descendant Rock were taking form in the wings), the Written Word was slowly losing its genteel qualities to tougher forms - in just about every aspect of life, Change was everywhere.
But here's the thing - as a '50s kid, everything was available to me; I could pick and choose, adopt or discard as I wished.
And - I was allowed to change my mind as I got older; in my advanced age, I was allowed to learn, to pick up on things I might have missed out on before.
Demographics, the Junk Science of the Milennium, was starting to take root, but regrettably no one noticed until it was too late.
Today, fauxExperts tell us that if we are of a certain Generation, they know exactly what we will love and not love - they've got the stats to prove it.
What they can't easily categorize, they simply disregard.
Whatever was Old must immediately give way to the New - No Transition Required.

The danger here is that those of us on the Wrong End of the divide are accepting all of this far too easily.
Some of us had parents who thought that way: "All that (insert fad of the time) is just awful! Why don't we still have (insert fad of the previous time), like God intended?"
I remember that plaint from when I was a teenager in the Sixties.
And now that I'm a sixty-ager in the Teens -
- no, no, I don't want to think about it ...

If you can, make a Friday Question out of all of this and answer it sometime, OK?

Barry Traylor said...

Glad I am not the only Old Geezer that feels the way you do. When I saw the promos for the Grammys I felt as old as Methuselah. I had not a clue who any of them were, it is not as though I don't listen to music. In fact a college radio station at Temple University in Philadelphia is the one I listen to mainly. I have a hunch they play little (no?) pop music.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Pat Reeder: for folksingers 'twas ever thus*. I do sympathize; I know how hard indie artists work - and they have to, because no one commercial is interested in the slightest.

*except for about two years in the late 1960s, when it was briefly fashionable.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

The only Grammies that Elvis won was for his Gospel albums ( well deserved, btw)

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Any award show that doesn't have Bryan Adams on it isn't worth watching.

Charles Powell said...

The Grammy's is an interesting study,every album of the year winner is either a full on pander or vote of the hear. Ie rotating btwn a band/artist the voter's really loved 20-30 year's ago and no one can name a track off their recent album or they go the opposite direction and give it to disposable pop act who's core audience is twelve.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

Off topic but to do with reviews. You put me onto Brockmire through your review and I loved it. So many laughs. Did you watch the full season in the end? Are you looking forward to S2 in April? Many thanks for that recommendation, one of the funniest shows to come out in a while.