December 11, 2006

And the winner is...

Recently I have been concerned with the rather philosophical question of how you objectify a subjective process, such as recognizing artistic achievement in a particular context. The conundrum here is that the word "artistic" inherently implies a subjective nature, but recognition (which requires interpretation) seeks perfect objectivity. I have been asking myself these questions because, as a music afficionado, I am trying to wrap my head around the classification and nomination of artists for the Grammy Awards. Of course, the 49th annual Grammy Award nominations were just released.

Now I don't want to use this space to blanketly trash the nominating process and pageantry of an event which in my mind is certainly flawed, but let's start with the bad, shall we? It probably does not even need to be explicit, but there are so many problems with the "Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal" that it is hard to know where to begin. To bring everyone up to speed, I will list the nominations for the category just as they appear on the Grammy web site:

  • My Humps
    The Black Eyed Peas
    Track from: Monkey Business
    [A&M Records]

  • I Will Follow You Into The Dark
    Death Cab For Cutie
    Track from: Plans
    [Atlantic Records]

  • Over My Head (Cable Car)
    The Fray
    Track from: How To Save A Life

  • Is It Any Wonder?
    Track from: Under The Iron Sea
    [Interscope Records]

  • Stickwitu
    The Pussycat Dolls
    Track from: PCD
    [A&M Records]
There is simply no way anyone could ever explain to me how "My Humps" belongs in the same category as "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" nor how The Fray somehow falls in the same creative jurisdiction as The Pussycat Dolls. Now, that is not say that one side of this comparison is automatically superior to its counterpart (to remove the inevitable "rock bias" argument) and assuredly many would argue that the "rock/pop" umbrella has long sufficed for retail markets, radio stations, and the Grammy's (among others). But perhaps it wouldn't be so revolutionary to conceive that lumping acoustic ballads and piano driven croons in with "sexipop" (to denote the prevelant intermingling of sex, pop, and hip-hop) and dance rap might be a bad idea. On one side of the fence, there is the idea that all these genres and subgenres can coexist compatibly and seamlessly. On the other side, however, it must be questioned how such different target audiences can be thrown together so willy-nilly just because they fall under the umbrella of popularity.

Some other questions stewing on my mind concerning the premiere award show for modern music (which undoubtably feeds off and embraces these very pop culture stereotypes) include: Where is the acknowledgement for the cult-obsessed independent music? How come even though there are 7 categories for Gospel music there are 0 categories for Jewish, Islam, and Eastern religions (and to the response that significantly more Christian/less non-Christian music is produced, let's not forget Polka music has it's very own field)? How come the touring prosperity of an artist does not figure into any category? How come there is a distinction between R&B and rap, but not hip-hop? Of course, many of these questions can be boiled down to issues and ambiguities with the language and the concepts involved. Personally, I would have really liked to see artists/bands like Regina Spektor, Jack's Mannequin, The Hush Sound, The Mars Volta, and Bloc Party thrust into the arena specifically because, while they have not achieved heralded commercial success (comparable to the actual nominees that is), they have produced groundbreaking and influential work in addition to being fully legitimate and 'acclaimed' acts. Again, though, we run into linguistic hurdles with the meaning of such words as groundbreaking, influential, and acclaimed.

It would not be fair to finish this post without taking a moment to recognize the recognizers for some fine choices. For example, the rise to fame of Ok Go's "Here It Goes Again" music video, which was rightfully nominated in its appropriate category, is one of my favorite stories from all of 2006. Let's just hope the powers that be see it's way through to a much deserved win. Danger Mouse and's props for Producer of the Year are thoroughly earned, as is Adam Jones's shout out for his work on Tool's 10,000 days album (one of the most inventive packages of the last 5 years), and I would be remiss if I didn't mention Little Miss Sunshine's (and relatedly DeVotchKa's) appreciation in the Best Compilation Soundtrack Album. There are indeed many others as well.

Ultimately, there are not any firm answers or resolutions to the questions raised in this post, but hopefully there are important deliberations which people will think and talk about for a long time. I may or may not return to the Grammy's on the blog in the near future, but if not, the ways in which we classify and organize music will definitely be a recurring theme.

1 comment:

RyTunes said...

I think that the reason that rock and pop songs are found in the same category are that they have historically been put into the same category in music stores. Not to use any religious bias, but I will parallel the label "Christian" to music. Within Christianity there are different sects. A Protestant differs from a Roman Catholic who differs from an Episcopalian. The beliefs have the same basic core - they all believe in Jesus - but their methods, practices, and views are completely different.

Let's move this to the Pop-Rock genre. If you labelled Slayer in the same category as OK Go, or New Found Glory in the same category as Jimi Hendrix, you'd have bloodshed from all sides. Yet their stylings can be traced back to a common root. Whether you say Elvis or the Beatles, even the Rolling Stones, the roots of pop and rock (hooks, catchy tunes) can be traced. Because they are all traced from the same principles - though they approach them differently - they are put into the same era.

Also, the separation of pop and rock would cause identity crises for some bands. Let's go back to the Beatles. Would you put their two eras of work in different sections? They are the same band. But the first half is clearly more pop, and the second half is clearly more rock, using the modern connotations for both terms. So what do you do? And because the record stores would rather just throw these together than worry about that, it is common sense that people who buy from record stores will associate pop cd's and rock cd's in the same section. And since that is where the criteria for the awards show comes from, it becomes rare to have any type of distinction.