The most irrelevant award ceremony of the year is coming up! No, not the Golden Globes…or the People’s Choice Awards. I suppose I should qualify the statement by saying that it is the most irrelevant award that is still viewed as a major status symbol. The Grammy award may be the “G” in “EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony),” but how and why the Grammys have managed to maintain their status for so long has always been something of a mystery. The absurdly large and bewilderingly specific variety of subgenre awards have always been something of a running gag in the media world, even with the organizers having recently axed a lot of the more esoteric categories—there are only 82 categories listed on the official website for 2014. That’s not why the ceremony is regarded as a joke though. If anything, the overwhelming irrelevance of the nominees in the major award categories is what has left viewers and reviewers puzzled, year after year. It’s not as if there is a shortage of music in the world. There are more people and more bands making records now than there probably have ever been in the history of the planet, and yet even with all of the possible award categories, the number of musically interesting albums or intriguing new artists who receive recognition is virtually zero. None of this is exactly a new criticism of the ceremonies, but it’s still worth keeping in mind, should one choose to suffer through the televised event itself.
The performers lined up for the big night are, as usual, an awkward mix of the recently-trendy and embarrassingly old-hat. The biggest news as far as guest artists are concerned is probably the reunion of the two remaining Beatles. The last time Sir Paul graced the Grammy stage, it resulted in thousands of confused tweets from teenagers who had no idea who he was—one can only fear an even worse fate for poor Ringo come Jan. 26. Lorde and Macklemore & Lewis seem to be the most popular of the newcomers in terms of nominations; looking at the full list of “Best Album” and “Best Song” categories is always good for a laugh. The appearance of Robin Thicke as both nominee and performer leads to worries about the whole “Blurred Lines” imbroglio being stirred up again, but it’s doubtful anybody could come up with any new opinions on the song that haven’t already been stated thousands of times throughout the previous several months. If there’s anything I learned from perusing the lists of nominees in the various categories though, it’s exactly how many old men are still making records and being nominated for them, despite their best years being long behind them. Does anyone genuinely believe anything The Rolling Stones did in 2013 would be the “Best Rock Song” of the year? Well, they’re nominated. (Ditto, with Black Sabbath.)
The problem with all artistic awards ceremonies is how to judge something that is inherently often extremely subjective. The list of artists nominated to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame each year presents a similar concern. Is the goal to recognize financial success? Pop cultural ubiquity? Musical talent? Is the fact that the Grammys often nominate the wrong people better or worse than the fact that the Emmys often nominate the right people and then give the award to the wrong person? Or that the Tonys operate exclusively in a world that is completely inaccessible to anyone outside the New York City-area? Each form of media has its own issues. It’s a longstanding problem without a clear solution, because for as much as artists like to pretend that awards don’t matter, that doesn’t stop them from being thrilled to receive them if they do happen to win. In an age of stagnating music sales in an oversaturated market, isn’t an added bit of publicity just what everyone is clamoring for? Winning a Grammy didn’t make Arcade Fire’s next album any better…but it did guarantee a lot more people knew of its existence.