I was really trying to avoid writing this blog. But after watching the entire show while tweeting, I felt obligated to write something longer than 140 characters.
The Good: (I’m a little bit country)
Honestly, I had never heard of the Zac Brown Band before. Fortunately, I was watching with a couple of musicians who are quite familiar with them from the Atlanta music scene. Two things were dope about ZBB last night:
1: They won Best New Artist and the Grammys introduced them to a national audience and gave them unparalleled exposure across genres. To me moments like this are when the Grammys are at their best, taking a great group and putting them on the largest music stage so that the rest of the world can meet them.
2. Their performance and more specifically the opening “America the Beautiful.” I loved it. Absolutely loved it. The southern gospel vocals, the Hammond organ, and the four-part harmony did it for me. Their performance confirmed why I like country: in terms of vocal talent it’s on par with gospel music for me. If you want to find some “sangin” white folks step up your country music game.
The Bad: Who WASN’T there
My kneejerk reaction was to point and laugh at the industry because as much as they love to hate Kanye West, his conspicuous physical absence was almost (almost) as pronounced as his ostentatious outbursts. Then, sticking with the Kanye motif, I was tempted to postulate about how Kanye may have been write about Taylor Swift. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never listened to one of babygirl’s songs and couldn’t name one of her singles if a box of golden oreos depended on it, but going off her Grammy performance (which admittedly may not be the best barometer), she has a really pitchy and whiny voice and sings blah blah songs.
Speaking of absences, where the hell was hip hop in the telecast?? For the chokehold hip hop has on pop music right now, there was one hip hop performance at the end of night. For hip hop’s part, apparently Weezy has never heard of a “clean version.” After all, this is CBS (network TV), not MTV or BET.
But how the hell you build a “relevant” Grammy telecast without one of the dominant genres in American music? Fill those slots with country music and old rockers, that’s how.
The one absence I’m still grappling with is the death of Michael Jackson. I can’t be the only one who still has moments where I’m like “Oh shit, I can’t believe MJ is gone!”
Unfortunately, the most egregious, sacrilegious, and heinous atrocity of the night was the tribute to Michael Jackson. It was completely underwhelming and not worthy a tribute for a man who had an impact of almost everyone who accepted an award last night. And no, I don’t care at all that it was in 3D. I said it first on twitter, and two hours later I still believe it’s true: BET did a better tribute to MJ 48-72 hours after his death than the Grammys did seven months after the King of Pop died. As much as I love “Earth Song” who the hell thinks of that FIRST when they think of MJ?!? You’re the GRAMMYS you got every venerable contemporary and legendary artist at your disposal (except for Chris Brown) and all you do is ONE song featuring some talented, albeit random, folx?
Then THEN there’s only one song for the King of Pop while Bon Jovi (whom I love) gets to do two?? Hell Jamie Foxx did two songs. So did Black Eyed Peas & Maxwell. MJ should’ve at least gotten a half hour!
Ambiguous Nomenclature: The Question of Genre
(Warning: Nerd Rant Ahead)
The genesis of this blog is my interest in genre and in “urban alternative” as a genre. For those unfamiliar, the Grammys have an Urban Alternative category is the Grammy for Black people who aren’t rappers and aren’t quite R&B so we don’t play your stuff on the radio. This category featured tracks from three of my favorite 2009 albums: Foreign Exchange “Daykeeper;” Eric Roberson’s “A Tale of Two;” and Robert Glasper’s “All Matter.” Also in the category were India Arie for “Pearls” and Tonex for “Blend.”
Indulge me while I belaboring a musical taxonomical point, but how the Grammys categorize music is a direct reflection of how record labels classify music. And with vague verbiage like “urban alternative” “alternative” “world music” serving as catch all terms, no wonder the artists that somehow get labeled as such gain little traction with the pop music machine. Those labels are so generic, and inherently oppositional that they become meaningless catchalls even while (ironically) teeming with musical talent.
People hate the word genre. But it’s a necessary evil, we have to have some way of describing the thing we’re talking about. Ethnomusicologist Sue Tuohy accurately assessed that these aren’t static categories but are reflections of the social life of the surrounding culture, meaning that how something is labeled (and by whom it’s labeled) says something about how we engage with this music. My concern with urb-alt is as a comodified genre is that is seems so vague that most folx with skip engaging the music altogether.
My personal agenda, as a fan of most of the artists labeled “urban alternative,” is for them to find a way to gain more face time and commercial success in an industry obsessed with its stars. And for all it’s problems, the term “neo-soul” worked in the 90s because it in the minds of consumers it was a concrete term that was synonymous with Erykah Badu, D’angelo, Jill Scott, etc.
Without turning my blog into my dissertation there is no appropriate place for me to stop rambling about the necessity of and problems with genre as a concept.
So I’ll just say, “I’d like to thank Jesus for making the Grammys and the Academy for knocking the rust from my brain and throwing back into the lake of fire that is my dissertation research… *music cued*…okay good night!”