Celebrating Art vs Capitalizing On The Artists

From Madonna to Taylor Swift to Paul McCartney, ACDC, Jessie J and many more, an A list compilation of celebrity attendees and performers can mean only one thing – the Grammys. Thousands tuned in this past Sunday for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards to see who was with who, who wore what, and most importantly, who won what. Despite the amazing performances by Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, and John Mayer, what seems to be lingering in the after thoughts of the awards ceremony isn’t about what was sung by the artists, but about what was said about the event – commentary provided by none other than Kanye West.

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Even though he didn’t win any awards this year, Kanye has still managed to steal the spotlight; beginning with his seemingly joking attempt to jump on stage when rock artist Beck won album of the year. While viewers at home all thought he was mocking his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift during her award acceptance at the VMA’s in 2009, he revealed in an interview with E! that he really did think Beyoncé deserved the award. (If you haven’t seen the whole interview click here)

Although the news headlines focus on his diss of Beck, what Kanye ends up ranting about is the commercialization of the music and entertainment industries. Kanye says,

“…what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in their face after they deliver monumental feats of music you’re disrespectful to inspiration. And we as musicians have to inspire people who go to work everyday, and they listen to that Beyoncé album and they feel like it takes them to another place. Then they do this whole promotional event that you know they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, the artists, because they want a commercial advertising. No, we not playing with them no more”.

By no means are we siding with Kanye’s etiquette, but we can’t ignore that he does have a point. This year we noticed that the music prompted to cut off the artists acceptance speeches, came on unreasonably fast – making it impossible for them to properly thank anyone or say anything. Not to mention, where were the awards?

A majority of them are handed out at the pre-telecast Grammy ceremony. This year it was renamed “The Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony” and was streamed live online. During this ceremony, which lasted from 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., 74 out of the 83 awards were handed out meaning only 9 major award categories were presented live.

Ben Naddaff-Hafrey, an editor of Mic Music, commented on his experience at the “Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony”, “The people who came are the people who live for music. They labor over projects that must seem quietly personal until they’re gilded in gold…The Grammys are a big concert; they aren’t an award show. Nobody shows up to the pre-televised event…the Grammys are ultimately more about the audience than the artist”. Some of you may not currently share this opinion, but look at the list of familiar artists, now grammy winners, who were skipped over in the telecasted event to make room for the 23 live performances.

  • Eminem: Best Rap/Sung collaboration with Rihanna on “Monster” and  Best Rap Album for The Marshall Mathers LP2
  • “Frozen”: Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media and “Let It Go” Best Song For A Movie
  • Pharrell Willims: “Girl” Best Urban Contemporary Album, “Happy” Best Video
  • Carrie Underwood: Best Country Solo Performance for “Something in the Water.”
  • The Band Perry: Best Country Duo with “Gentle on My Mind”
  • John Williams: Best Instrumental Composition for “The Book Thief.”
  • “20 Feet From Stardom,”: Best Musical Film (If you haven’t seen this, it is a MUST watch documentary on backup singers. It is available on Netflix.)
  • “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”: Best Musical Album
  • Alexandre Desplat: Best Soundtrack for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

The Premiere Ceremony’s live performance lineup, which included more obscure acts such as Chilean hip-hop artist Ana Tjoux, and, for you “Wagon Wheel” fans, a fiddle folk performance by Old Crow Medicine Show, seemed truer to the Grammy mission of honoring musical achievement rather than popularity.

Kanye even states a call to action, claiming, “We have to step up the taste level across the board on all networks.”

While Kanye referring to “taste” does raise some eyebrows, he still possesses a valid argument. By definition, the Grammys are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position. Yet a powerful underlying question is raised of whether or not artistic excellence is truly being  appropriately recognized. And Kanye isn’t the only one criticizing the awards, others have also challenged how much commercialization has contributed, not just to the viewing of the Grammys, but the distribution of the awards as well.

One can’t help but notice that a majority of Grammy winners typically tend to be mainstream artists. In her article regarding this year’s Grammys, Kelsey McKinney, claims that despite attempting to eliminate monetary success as a considering factor, “album sales or chart position” seems to decide winners far more than actual artistic quality, “Those climbing the stairs to hold those golden gramophones are more likely to be Top 40 superstars than the best musicians and artists working. Some of the best musicians ever — Bob Marley, Diana Ross, and Jimi Hendrix — never won an award, even with the 83 (yes, 83) competitive categories the Grammys hand out awards in.”

The big flaw, she continues, is the nomination and voting process. The Grammy voting committee is so large, that many voting members are not familiar with every category.  After becoming a Recording Academy Voting Member, which in reviewing the requirements, does not mean you are an expert or necessarily well versed in the industry, members are asked to vote for winners in up to 20 genre categories and four major categories. However, this means that some genres are less voted on than others, and that many people vote winners in genres that they don’t have deep knowledge of. As a result, big names and Top 40 artists are more likely to get both nominated and awarded because of their name and reputation recognition with clueless voting members.

“The Grammys don’t represent real music; their voting system is broken; the system is not as racially sensitive as it should be. All this is true. But all this also assumes that the Grammys are sincerely meant to reward musical achievement, and the fact is they don’t,” says Ben Naddaff-Hafrey.

The budding question we have to ask ourselves as marketers is, when does an event or organization become too commercialized? This is what we believe Kanye poorly alluded to in his post interview rant when he made his fellow interviewees and hosts take the E! branded mic covers off their microphones.

The Recording Academy is conducting their event to meet the demands of the networks that want television content that will bring viewers – more performances, less speeches, more focus on “popular” awards. For cultivating this large viewership, the networks can then in turn, raise the prices of advertising space. To many this is where the problem presents itself, that the Grammy’s are no longer upholding their mission and purpose to “positively impact the lives of musicians, industry members and our society at large.” Instead, “… the Grammys are nothing more than some gigantic promotional machine for the music industry,”– Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of metal band Tool.

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So, has your opinion changed? Do you think the Grammy’s are not honoring their purpose and mission? Did you like this year’s Grammy Awards Show? Let us know is a comment below!

– Caroline Valade & Savannah Valade

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