The State of Music | The Grammy Awards 2014
State of Music Industry Taste
To a certain degree it is necessary to rely on tastemakers and critics to suggest, support and sometime unveil quality within an industry so that they, as experts, can vette the mass of material for fans of the craft. This is particular important in the area of art whereas it is a subjective medium and therefore more difficult to measure success and quality. With that said, methods seen so far don’t always equate to the ideal, especially given the influence of money and commercialism. I understand that to a certain degree money is a tenant of any “successful” industry, with commercialism an often necessary precursor, but they can often corrupt otherwise honest efforts. That is to say in another way, if left to only the influence of these, prospects such as art can be easily diluted and compromised to a significant degree.
It is my belief that the industry, in its current state of flux and re-invention, is fully immersed in a wave of this compromise. New tastemakers and trusted sources are emerging and gaining trust, but old avenues still play a big role. Terrestrial radio still play a very large part in music discovery for a large percentage of listeners and recognition from publications and awards are integral for credibility and exposure.
The most sought after recognition in the commercial realm of music is to receive a Grammy award. I say in the commercial realm, because from both a fan and artist perspective the rewards of connection and communication through art are exponentially greater when aligned, but that is another topic.. The Grammy’s are hosted and decided by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry. Other than the notion of popularity as pertains to commercialism, they are meant and assumed to be an agnostic establishment that chooses nominations based on industry and artistic merit within a voting structure by select members.
Controversy surrounding Grammy credibility is nothing new, but it seems to be continuing down the wrong direction whereas artistic integrity and innovation make less and less of an appearance in each of the last several years. Granted, I can put bias aside and tolerate the merging of Hard Rock and Metal categories for Best Performance, and to clarify, these words come from that of a fan primarily rather than that of an artist, but the decline seems to be ubiquitous across genres. Far removed are the days of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd where talent, innovation and raw expression superseded sexual exploitation and clever marketing.
Historical Contrast of Nominees
With all that stated, let’s look some of this years nominees
BEST ROCK PERFORMANCE
Always Alright - Alabama Shakes
The Stars (Are Out Tonight) - David Bowie
Radioactive - Imagine Dragons
Kashmir - Led Zeppelin
My God Is The Sun - Queens Of The Stone Age
I'm Shakin' - Jack White
Other than Imagine Dragons (who are actually pandering pop, adult contemporary) and Alabama Shakes (folk, adult contemporary), all the other acts came up in the 90’s and before. It’s one of my favorite songs by them, but didn’t “Kashmir” release in the 70’s?
A similar trend can be seen in the Metal Performance category:
BEST METAL PERFORMANCE
T.N.T. - Anthrax
God Is Dead? - Black Sabbath
The Enemy Inside - Dream Theater
In Due Time - Killswitch Engage
Room 24 - Volbeat Featuring King Diamond
Only Volbeat was even formed since the turn of the century, let alone Black Sabbath, who again, favorites and originators of the genre that they are, released most of their seminal work more than 30 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that they are releasing new material and I would rather have them nominated than much of the other material that passes for metal and rock these days, but there seems to be a disconnect here...
Looking at the BEST ROCK ALBUM category shows no difference in trend.
I agree that the mainstream media and majority opinion should not be relied upon to define art and quality especially today, but like to admit it or not, it does say something about culture as a whole. And it’s speaking volumes at the moment.
Taking a look back at past winners servers to validate the point that there has indeed been a loss and regression in artistic integrity supported in the music industry. Spanning the 90s and into the first couple years of the 2000’s there has been clear recognition of innovation and artistic voice.
1992 - NIN - Wish - Best Metal Performance
1992 - Ozzy - I Don’t Want to Change the World - Best Metal Performance
1994 - Soundgarden - Both Best Hard Rock and Metal Performances
1995 - NIN - Happiness In Slavery - Best Metal Performance
1996 - RATM - Tire Me - Best Metal Performance
1997 - TOOL - Aenema - Best Metal Performance
2000 - RATM - Guerrilla Radio - Best Metal Performance
2000 - Deftones - Elite - Best Metal Performance
2001 - TOOL - Schism - Best Metal Performance
Reflection on Artistic Integrity in the Mainstream
These bands also had commercial success, but it is hard to deny that they didn’t compromise their artistic voice and exploration to achieve it. Tool and Rage Against the Machine are both well known for loathing and shunning censorship as opposition to artistic voice and integrity. Nine Inch Nails and Deftones have continued to evolve their sounds and message never compromising by chasing the mainstream market. You may attempt to say that statement is bias and editorial, but contrasted with the acts at the forefront today, it is hard to even make a comparison.
Maybe this says something about the musicians as well as the sentiment and scene today. Something was lost in the over commercialization of rock emerging from the Grunge era with labels manufacturing bands like Creed to bastardize the principles and foundation of what made the genre so unique and impactful. Gone is dissent and rebellion in trade for delusional rock star fantasy rife with images of drugs, women, excess and no artistic voice whatsoever. Apparently the musicians and bands that best embody those traits today are the same ones that were doing it 20 years ago. This is incredibly unsettling.
With no disrespect, (some of the included are personal favorites, NIN, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin) much of that talent lost connection with vitriol and decent many years ago when they became rock gods, subsequently dampening the fire of desperation and is more inherent in those in a less comfortable position. Their influence lies dormant but still resonates in many underground musicians and artists, it just has to be rekindled.
Entertainment vs. Art
To me there is a clear delineation between art and entertainment, now more than ever, and we are drowning in a sea of cheap thrills and hollow entertainment. In the past there had always been room for both, but we as consumers have allowed art and dissent to diminish. The internet era of immediate gratification and infinite choice leaves us all one click on a sexually exploitative thumbnail away from leaving and abandoning the deeper connection with true art that we were so faintly trying to discover. We are allowing our animal selves to be exploited and our greater Selves to be comfortable with stagnace. The power to break the hypnosis lies in our collective hands.
All we have to do is wake up to our own awareness. Unite. And act.
Let the mainstream chase ledger lines of hopeful profit in the new industry by exploiting masses. In the mean time we will be exploring ourselves, finding our voices, and connecting with those who share the same fire and conviction. With more tools and opportunity than ever for connection and communication, together we will start a scene and movement to a new era of expression and uncensored artistic voice.
Together we can change art.
Together we can change minds.
Together we can change the world.
It appears that the masterminds behind the Grammy's show production have gone and proven me right, adding to the validity of an already cynical rant. After 3 hours of mostly pop musical performances during last night's production, Trent Reznor joined Queens of The Stone age and Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckinham on stage to perform as rock's sole representation of the night. Not even halfway through a the collaborative set, credits and ads started to roll damnpening the display and ultimately cutting off the performance all together, snubbing the all star lineup who, I might add has collectively contributed quite a bit to the darker more rebellious side of music over the last 20 years.
Way to drive my earlier points home.
Trent Reznor agrees:
Music's biggest night... to be disrespected. A heartfelt FUCK YOU guys.
— Trent Reznor (@trent_reznor) January 27, 2014
Music needs more dissent. So glad he spoke his mind rather than staying PC.