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The Grammys: sticking it in your ear for 50 years

February 1, 2010

The Grammy Awards were given out last night, which of course means today there was a lot of angry grumbling over who won, in this case guitar playing fetus Taylor Swift, who took home the top prize of Album of the Year.  Though being the most boring, blandest nominee in a category that includes The Dave Matthews Band is an achievement in itself, the general consensus is that Swift simply didn’t deserve the honor.  I grimaced a bit at the news myself, until it occurred to me that I really don’t give much of a crap about the Grammys, mostly because I no longer make much of a concerted effort to stay on top of the music industry.  That’s not from some misplaced snobbery, though I did at one point consider myself a bit of a music snob.  Mostly it’s because I’ve realized that I’m some fifteen to twenty years older than the target age to whom the music industry seems to be marketing these days, to the point where I’m almost a little embarrassed to admit that I find some of Lady Gaga’s music catchy.  I’ve fallen behind on what’s new and now.  I’m still stubbornly clinging to the idea that 90s alternative rock is a sorely underrated genre, not to mention that U2 is still the greatest still-performing band of all time, even though many hipster music blogs have told me otherwise.

My exposure to Taylor Swift is limited to exactly one song, which I found neither good or bad.  In fact, it made no impression on me whatsoever.  Her music seems to be the auditory equivalent of a dish of vanilla ice cream.  The only remarkable thing I can say about her is that at least she isn’t Miley Cyrus.  In other words, she’s exactly the type of act who usually ends up winning an Album of the the Year Grammy, performing the kind of music that crosses boundaries, those boundaries being fourteen year-old girls’ iPods, shopping malls and dentists’ offices.  Consider who else has won the same award over the past twenty years: Dixie Chicks, Norah Jones, the Santana album that had that godawful ‘Smooth’ song on it, Celine Dion, Tony Bennett and the soundtrack to The Bodyguard.  You know who won in 1981? Christopher Cross.  Yeah, the ‘Sailing’ guy, Mr. ‘Arthur’s Theme.’  Taylor Swift might as well be Wendy O. Williams.

The Grammys have a long, rich history of questionable choices for their winners.  Past ‘Song of the Year’ winners have included John Mayer’s creepy ‘Daughters,’ the previously mentioned ‘Smooth,’  ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ Bette Midler’s treacly ‘From a Distance’ (just a year after she won for the equally treacly ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’) and ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’  2001’s Best Rock Performance was Creed’s ‘With Arms Wide Open.’  That’s right, Creed, one of the world’s most hated bands, won a Grammy, as has Britney Spears, the Black-Eyed Peas and Linkin Park, as opposed to Queen, the Who, Bob Marley and Diana Ross, who won exactly zero times.  Rioting in the streets all but ensued when Jethro Tull won Best Hard Rock Performance in 1989, a category in which their competition was Metallica, AC/DC, Iggy Pop and Jane’s Addiction.  Finally, does anyone need to be reminded of this bicycle pants wearing embarrassment?

Sure, they had to give that Best New Artist award back eventually, but the stain still lingers.  Not to mention that they’re in good company with other “where are they now?” legends like Hootie & the Blowfish, Paula Cole, Debby Boone and Starland Vocal Band.  Oh, and Christopher Cross, again.  He won big that year.  The Grammys always make some half-hearted attempt at edgy relevance by acknowledging groups like Tool and Gorillaz, but in the end the major awards go to the safest, most inoffensive crowd pleasers, even if, in the case of Taylor Swift, the crowd now suddenly doesn’t seem so pleased about it (though she’s selling millions of albums, clearly someone must like her).  They’re much like the Oscars, smug and self-congratulatory over how hard they work to keep up with what’s new and innovative, yet pulling their punches at the last minute.  The nominees for this year’s Academy Awards are being announced tomorrow, and it’s all but assured that Sandra Bullock will score a slot in the Best Actress category for The Blind Side, which is a happier, more light-hearted Precious for people who can’t handle PreciousThe Blind Side is sort of like the Taylor Swift of movies, dull but harmless, a choice that is controversial only in how utterly predictable it is.  You want to stop being disappointed in the Grammys? Stop expecting anything from them.

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