The big winners at the 56th annual Grammy Awards were Daft Punk (aka Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter) in all their robotic glory, who won Album and Record of the Year, Best Dance/Electronica Album, Best Engineered LP, as well as Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for Get Lucky with Pharrell and Niles Rodgers.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis also made a big splash last night with awards for Best New Artist, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance for Thrift Shop. One of the highlights of the night's program was their performance of Same Love, which featured Queen Latifah officiating the marriage of 34 straight and gay couples, and Madonna coming out dressed like Boss Hog with a grill and a cane singing Open Your Heart to the newlyweds. Also, Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear won Best Rock Song for the collaboration Cut Me Some Slack, and 16-year-old Lorde won Song Of The Year and Best Vocal Pop Performance for Royals. The entire list of winners for all 82 categories can be found here.
Reviews for the telecast are still coming in, but there have been arguments for years about how relevant the show and the distinction of "Grammy Winner" is as far as being a significant reflection of musical greatness within the culture for the given year? For example, this is an awards show occurring in the year 2014 that had Paul McCartney, plus members of Nirvana, beating out Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones for Best Rock Song, and Led Zeppelin winning Best Rock Album over Queens of the Stone Age for a live album of their greatest hits recorded in 2007. When you pull away all the pomp and spectacle, the Grammys are a 4-hour TV commercial for a dying music industry. And just as people argue about who should and shouldn't be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, people argue about the nominations and winners at the Grammys. The biggest criticism of the ceremony is that the Grammys are a collection of older voters out of touch with the genres they attempt to honor, which has led to some infamous instances of artists being given awards for excellence in genres their music arguably doesn't belong to over other acts who many thought were more deserving.
So is there anything from last night to argue about? More after the jump.
The best thing about the Grammys are the performances and spectacle.
Beyond that is where the arguments start. Any awards program in any medium is going to be subjective. So there's always going to be some arguments. But many feel the major flaw of the Grammys (and arguably most of the other major awards in the arts) is that it's predicated on a system where the representatives of yesteryear are weighing in on the acts of today with their biases.
From Chris Richards at the Washington Post:
In his 1992 book “Broken Record: The Inside Story of the Grammy Awards,” author Henry Schipper argues that out-of-touchness was written into the Grammys’ genetic code. When the founders of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) assembled in 1957 hoping to create an awards show, they were flummoxed by the rise of rock-and-roll — “ a kind of antimusic — lyrically inane, shoddily produced, a mockery of any reasonable set of musical standards,” Schipper writes.So what the Grammys have done in the past is expand the number of categories so everyone can have their own award, while also deflecting some of the criticism for why certain artists aren't nominated or honored. It's sort of like how the Oscars give animated films their own category so they don't have to feel bad about not honoring an animated film that might be better than any of the live-action ones. But the Grammys have found ways to screw even this up in the past. For one thing, it diluted the show into a bloated mess that reached 109 categories at one point, where people were voting on and nominating things they never listened to. For example, back in 1989 the Grammys added a category for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. In its inaugural year Jethro Tull's album Crest of a Knave beat Metallica's ...And Justice for All, for an album that even Jethro Tull didn't think belonged in that category, but won because it's a name the older voters of the academy recognized.
To honor “artistry” and “excellence,” NARAS hosted the first Grammy Awards in 1959. There were 28 categories. Henry Mancini took home album of the year. Other winners included Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como and “the Chipmunks.“
And that's usually a bigger problem in the Album of the Year category. It's long been treated by the Grammy voters as a lifetime achievement award. In 2001, Steely Dan's Two Against Nature beat out Radiohead's Kid A and Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP. In 2008, Herbie Hancock won Album of the Year with a Joni Mitchell covers record over Amy Winehouse's Back to Black and Kanye West's Graduation.
And then there's the Grammys spotty history with rap and hip-hop.
Never in the history of the Grammys has a hip-hop track won for Song or Record of the Year. In all 56 years of the Grammys' existence, there have only been four rap nominees for Song of the Year. Not four winners. Four nominees. And that's in an era where in the last twenty years rap and hip-hop singles have dominated Billboard Hot 100 charts, iTunes downloads and radio airplay.
So that's led to a little bit of debate over Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' success in the rap categories last night. Most of the criticism is not that The Heist was a bad album or Thrift Shop a bad track, or a denial that Same Love has a great message, but in the grand scheme of things was The Heist really better than the material on Kanye's Yeezus, Jay-Z's Magna Carta…Holy Grail, Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and Drake's Nothing Was The Same?
From Steven Hyden at Grantland:
I’m tempted to say it won’t be significant at all, because deep down I don’t think award shows (least of all the Grammys) ultimately shape how the history of art forms are remembered. That “Hey Ya!” didn’t win Record of the Year obviously hasn’t affected the love people have for it. (As much as I like “Clocks,” it probably won’t outlive “Lose Yourself” or “Crazy in Love,” either.) “Jesus Walks” is better regarded today than John Mayer’s “Daughters,” even though the latter beat the former for Song of the Year in 2005. Jay Z has as many Song of the Year nominations as Hoobastank, and yet Jay Z could pay to have the members of Hoobastank dropped into a South American rain forest and hunted like wild game by billionaires. This is as it should be. Awards never stick around as long as truly great music does.
But while I believe everything I just typed, it’s not exactly true. The Grammys do matter — maybe not as an arbiter of quality, but certainly as a signpost for the current state of the recording industry and unquestionably as a driver of sales (or at least plays on streaming services). Because the media inevitably focuses way too much attention on these empty, self-congratulatory displays, their professed importance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, at least in the short term. (I plead guilty to this charge.) A Grammy victory reiterates and amplifies trends in pop music that the Grammy voters see as worthwhile, which then makes those trends appear to loom even larger in the culture.