The Grammys: sickeningly nostalgic, self-gratifying, occasionally surprising and controversial

GrammySO, GRAMMY season has come and gone. On the 26th of January, the self-proclaimed “Oscars of Music” unleashed an awards ceremony that was sickeningly nostalgic, self-gratifying and yet very occasionally surprising and controversial (sometimes simultaneously). It wasn’t on the scale of 2011 when it came to upsets, but it wasn’t far off.

Before digging into the awards themselves, the performances have to be mentioned – after all, they are probably the only reason to watch The Grammys any-more – and they ranged from dull, to actually pretty great. The show started off with a very sultry performance by Jay-Z and Beyonce as they played ‘Drunk In Love’ from the latter’s latest self-titled album. It then frequently descended into a slog with Metallica playing ‘One’, Pink’s recycled trapeze routine and Taylor Swift’s incredibly boring piano ballad. However, there were some fantastic performances from the likes of Lorde, who performed her massive hit ‘Royals’ with aplomb, and Kendrick Lamar’s energetic display with Imagine Dragons. But it was Daft Punk along with Pharrell, Grammy veteran Stevie Wonder and Nigel Roger’s mash up of ‘Get Lucky’ with various songs from all three of the artist’s repertoire that provided the most fun. The entire audience seemed to be swept up in the intoxicating rhythm and even I, watching it on the internet, felt the compulsion to hum and tap my foot to the music.

The actual awards themselves didn’t do much to hide the stale taste of the majority of the performances. Daft Punk winning five Grammys, including Best Record and Best Album, was fair enough. They fully deserved their awards because Random Access Memories was probably one of the best albums of the year (and ‘Get Lucky’ is an instant classic). Lorde winning both Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance was a very nice surprise – ‘Royals’ is shockingly good for someone so young. But she was snubbed in not being nominated for Best New Artist when the likes of James Blake, Kendrick Lamar or Ed Sheeran (all of whom aren’t ‘new’ artists by any stretch) were actually nominated was a big oversight by The Grammys. Bruno Mars winning another Grammy for Unorthodox Jukebox was, again, a rather large upset because, as far as I can tell, that album was a complete non-event and the fact that it won a Best Pop Vocal Album award instead of say Justin Timberlake’s or even Lorde’s albums was one of the first indications that The Grammys are still, after all these years, suckers for boring, ‘safe’ music.

When it came to Rock music no one was too surprised when the Paul McCartney-and-bits-of-Nirvana collaboration song ‘Cut Me Some Slack’ won a Best Rock Song award nor when Led Zeppelin won for Celebration Day as, in my opinion, it was a weak year for what The Grammys would call “Rock” music; of course it was going to go to ‘known quantities’ and not the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age (although I was astonished that David Bowie didn’t get anything). Vampire Weekend won a very well deserved Best Alternative Music Album award for Modern Vampires Of The City, beating off the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Tame Impala. Justin Timberlake picked up an award for best R&B Song with the surprisingly-nominated ‘Pusher Love Girl’ – not even the best song on 20/20 Experience by a long way. Rihanna somehow scooped up another Grammy with Apologetic, despite it being a terrible album even when compared to her previous ones. Somehow The Grammys completely ignored Janelle Monae’s superb Electric Lady. Finally, before we get to (in my opinion) the most contentious awards at the Grammys, John Legend got snubbed for Alicia Keys which was shocking to no-one.

Now we come to the “Rap Awards” for best Rap Performance, Best Rap Collaboration, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album. This is where The Grammys’ irrelevance finally showed its entire hand. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis cleaning up those awards – with the exception of Best Rap collaboration, which went to the awful ‘Holy Grail’ by Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake – was  absolutely, 100%  ridiculous on every level. They are not rap and neither do they represent the best of rap music. They make pop music that has rapping in it. Yes, they made songs that were a bit more socially conscious than your usual rapper and, yes, ‘Thrift Shop’ is a very fun song. But the “Best”? No. Not even close.

This controversy came to a head with Best Rap album. Calling The Heist the best rap album when it’s on the same list as: Nothing Was The Same by Drake, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick Lamar and Yeezus by Kanye West is an absolute mockery. Kendrick Lamar should have won that award with ease. Drake’s album was good and Yeezus was barely a rap album but Good Kid... was a sublime album that showcased all the ingredients a rap album has to have in order to one day be considered a classic of the genre, long after The Heist has fallen into obscurity.

The rest of the awards were fairly standard afterwards, with the exception of Kacey Musgraves beating the juggernaut that is Taylor Swift for Best Country Album. If I liked that genre of music, I probably be surprised but I don’t so I can’t pass much of a judgement. Still, she must be very special to beat out Taylor “I Win Country Grammys With My Eyes Closed” Swift.

Ultimately, this year more than many others lead me to question just what criteria The Grammys judge music by. Is it “The Most Popular Music”? If that was the case, Arcade Fire would not have won Album of The Year with The Suburbs against Lady Gaga (the obvious and hugely popular choice). It can’t be critical appeal or Kanye West would have been nominated and won Best Rap Album/Best Album for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy back in 2011 and Kendrick would be holding a Best Rap Album this year. It’s baffling and rage-inducing seeing quality artists being passed up for boring and ‘lesser’ music. But it’s a self-congratulatory awards show, so who really cares anyway?