the grampies

So named because the new artists are never new, and the nominees in the pop categories include such young blood as Elton John and Herbie Hancock. Even before the simulcast starts, we’ve already got some winners:

Best Female Pop: Lady Gaga; Best Male Pop: Bruno Mars; Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals: Herbie Hancock, Pink, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No 1, Jeff Beck & Oumou Sangare (!!); Rihanna and La Roux winning dance album awards; and so forth. But here’s the one that gets me:

That’s “Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance” (basically, rock song of the year) to PAUL MCCARTNEY for a cover of HELTER SKELTER.* Seriously? First recorded in September, 1968 and released in November of that year. Now, I am a middle-aged person, and this is a song that was released two years before my parents married, and six years before I was born. This should be impossible in pop music. But the Lords of Pop Music have long since hunkered down, stuffed qat in their cheeks and thrown up their hands in dismay. And that, my friends, is the spirit in which I will enjoy this years Grampies Awards (TM). Live blogging will soon ensue.

*And just in case I haven’t convinced you? The other nominees in that category: Eric Clapton, John Mayer (who, let’s face it, sings like he’s 58 years old), Robert Plant and Neal Young. Where do rock stars go when they retire? On the Grammy Awards. And lest you worry, please know that NEIL YOUNG won BEST ROCK SONG. M-fer.

[Aretha Franklin tribute, with LL Cool J as presenter.] I heard a bit about this musical montage in advance: Christina Ag… (oh, wait, I forgot the words), Jennifer Hudson, Florence Welch, Yolanda Adams and Martina McBride. Christina has some kind of custom-made mic stand, which reminds me of nothing so much as a string of anal beads. Other than the light show which accomplishes the visual meme of “big concert” but does little good for viewers on TV, there’s not much to say about this. Aretha pre-recorded an expression of gratitude, and promises to make an appearance in 2012. I will make the same promise to you. And as much as loving Aretha is some kind of civil religion, and I hazard pissing you off by mentioning it, this tribute is further evidence that we’re in the land of the Old People.

[The ladies from the last segment are back as presenters for best Pop performance, duo or group.] Train wins for “Hey, Soul Sister” which was released, I swear to god, in 1999. At least one of the guys in the band knows how to play a dulcimer (I mean, that’s my defense of them). And I see the show’s producers know how to play the “your time is up” music. Now Ricky Martin is wearing silver jeans, a black tux jacket and a too short tie. His proportions are all off. And, I assume because he’s gay, he’s the intro for Lady Gaga’s performance of “Born This Way.” The greatest thing so far is that she’s got on a body suit that looks like skin, but has huge, pointy shoulder pads. Great, horned shoulders. Also: it was Ricky Martin who made the suggestion that his sexuality was the reason he was picked for her intro…that’s not my idea.

[Blake Shelton intro-ing his fiance, Miranda Lambert] I think this is my first time hearing her sing, and I’m shocked at the nasal tone of her voice. It really isn’t something I enjoy. I also must imagine she owns more flattering dresses than this. An A-line skirt would be a much wiser choice, I think. Also, more comfortable. But there isn’t much A-line in country, is there? New Country needs to be all Banded Dresses and sparkly 7 inch heels, I suppose. That’s one thing I’ve learned, living in Nashville. [Lenny Kravitz, bald, with shredded leather vest intro-ing Muse.] Gosh, remember INXS? I do. Muse does too. And OMG, in addition to their keytars and double-necked guitars, they’ve chosen to do a little dramatization on stage, involving a dude with a bat or something, and shock police. But now that they’re more dancy, I’m wondering if the reference is more Sharks and the Jets…. Here’s the thing: don’t have your AV dude load the machine with scenes of social disorder and revolt, and DON’T have professional dancer-rioters if your music is stale as week-old bread. Because you look like a…what would the British say?…a nob? A wanker?

[Ryan Seacrest introing a “power trio” of “breakout stars” Bruno Mars, BOB and Janelle Monae] So, Bruno Mars always reminds me of a doo-wop singer–I think its the flat iron/soap curl look. And B.o.B. was smart enough to wear his monocle. That’s what he is, right? We know he’s smart because he wears a monocle? Either that, or he’s the Monopoly dude. Or this cat.

And after a long solo performance by Bruno Mars which I willfully ignored and during which I searched for the word “monocle” and then the most amusing monocle-wearer I could find (see cat, above), Janelle Monae takes her turn. And as cute as she is, I have to point out how weak her voice is in the mid-register. Her singing is the equivalent of a “mid American accent.” But I fully appreciate the attempt toward musicianship here, and Cindy Lauper is giving them all a standing ovation, which you might take as evidence I’m losing my mind.

[Dirks Bentley and Zach Brown, whom I’ve never heard of and who is wearing a macrame skull cap.] Best Female Vocal Country Performance: Miranda Lambert “The House That Built Me.” We knew this would happen because she performed earlier, remember? She’s still got the same dress on. She believes that “everyone can relate” to her lyrics and she “loves country music.” This is something she probably really means, since it is her job. And her husband’s job. And the reason she’s got that diamond, I assume. So, that’s a lesson to you folks. Love your job. It buys diamonds. And monocles.

[Eva Longoria introing Justin Bieber and Usher] Followed by extremely touching (ahem) choreographed “conversation” between the two, followed by Bieber acoustic version of hit song. And…a drum line. A drum line OF NINJAS. See? This is what happens when you let the youth speak. You’re all Egypt, Egypt, but you should be all NINJA DRUM LINE. And now a duo with Will Smith’s kid (Jayden Smith) who is wearing CHEETA PANTS. I am telling you, this is good. Now Usher is taking the stage and I hadn’t realized earlier that he’s got a thin beard–the kind that looks like it came from a high school prop shop. I really liked Usher before he got married. I don’t know if it’s me or him but I feel like he’s stuck in a very 1996 moment. It helps that he’s wearing Janet Jackson’s pants from the Control video.

One thing I haven’t yet mentioned: it seems to be the case that most of these artists are singing live. There’s lots of warbling and voice weakness, but I do prefer this to the alternative.

[Paramore and some actor from NCIS introing Best Old Oldness.] Oh, Best Rock Album. Muse, “The Resistance.” We knew that one, too. There’s a method to this madness and it’s called “Play this damn show or we won’t give you an award.”

[Selena Gomez and Donnie Wahlberg introing Best Pop Vocal Album] The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga. She’s thanking Whiney Houston because she imagined her singing it. Interjection of David Letterman “Surprises at the 2011 Grammy Awards,” which are as funny as they are on the regular TV. Not. At. All.

Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan (this is “modern, folk rock” in case you were confused). There was a “surprise, underground” Mumford and Sons show in Nashville last week which was, actually, underground. In some dude’s basement. “Nashville basement to Grammy Awards” is pretty much what my own rock star fantasies involve. Except that I never go to Nashville in my dreams. Any one of these dudes could have a guitar with a sticker that reads “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Also, any of these dudes could work at the fancy cocktail bar I love where the uniform must be described as “Gold Rush bar keep.” They wear those sleeve garters. I bet the Avett Brothers wear sleeve garters. Bob Dylan is singing “Maggie’s Farm” with a frog in his throat. That’s not, like, metaphorical. He’s actually froggy. But my god, they have the upright bass miked really well. REALLY well. That’s sort of amazing. I do wonder if Old Dudes are now going to wear gold dress shirts. They’ll tell their wives, “Honey, BOB DYLAN wore one!”

[Lea Michelle and Clay Matthews] Lady Antebellum performing Teddy Pendergrass and their own songs. As New Country (that is, as pop), I can totally appreciate what they’re doing, and if I were in A&R, I would totally listen to them and then shout “God damn! Those kids will make us ten million dollars!” But for me, I’d rather poke my eyes out than listen to this.

[Miley Cyrus and Kings of Leon] Best Country Album (I’ll just mention one of the Kings of Leon owns the house around the corner.) To: Need You Now, Lady Antebellum. Duh. They just played. Aren’t you paying attention?

[Jamie Foxx] Oh, jesus. I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS PART. Cee-Lo Green is going to play F*ck You? Please? YESsssss…. But wait, Gwyneth Paltrow? HE IS WEARING AN ARMORED BIRD SUIT. I fucking love Cee-Lo. [….]

I was dancing, not blogging, but there were puppets including one with a dog face and Paltrow had a cat suit and some kind of wacky shoes which may or may not have included socks, and they flubbed the lines a few times, but it is still MY FAVORITE THING so far. And I think that’s saying something, because I really enjoyed making fun of Usher.

[Neil Patrick Harris] Katy Perry performance when all I really want is Russel Brand. She’s dressed like that ballerina that lives inside my jewelry case and spins around while the little tune plays. As it turns out, I get a little Russell Brand because they’re playing their wedding video on a scrim behind her, which I find totally disgusting. Then she earns the ire of single people around the world by intro-ing “Teenage Dream” by dedicating it to “Valentine Lovers, Everywhere.”

[Norah Jones, John Mayer, Kieth Urban] Playing Joleen, one of the best songs ever. And Norah’s voice is perfect for it. Why had I not noticed her voice had resemblance to Dolly’s? Wow, that was spectacular. Song of the Year: “Need You Now.” Are you starting to make a mental list of the things you should be doing instead of reading this blog? Yeah, it’s that way on the other side of the screen, too.

Here is your warning: Eminem is playing after the break. I will hate it. I’m just telling you now so you don’t complain I didn’t warn you.

[Seth Rogan] Rhianna, Dr. Dre and Eminem. I hate Eminem. Why? The way he dances. His screamy flow. His self-importance. That leather Members Only jacket. The fact that his only dance move looks like a crab having a seizure. I hate this. Make it stop. ARGH. I am ready to blame him for the swimming dancing lady in the big dress in the video. Dr. Dre just took his 16 bars and one of the things that impresses me about him is that he both adapts to his environment (his verses fit exactly to the song) while also retaining his own style (particularly, in this case, his flow).

[John Legend and Jewel] Best New Artist: Esperanza Spalding wins over Justin Bieber? And Florence and the Machine? All I heard about her was the one New Yorker profile. Jesus, what a…jesus. I think, in 20 years of watching the Grammy’s, that’s the first real surprise.

[Matthew Morrison] President of Recording Academy. Blah blah blah blah. Piracy. Freedom of speech. Blah blah. Dead folks video. It is a source of constant amazement to me that these montages never have any artistry. They are the audio equivalent of what my mother would do if I asked her to make a mixtape.

Mick Jagger? Right after the dead people? Seriously? Solomon Burke tribute, that’s what’s up. Still, at his age I wouldn’t want to be in the same building with the “dead rockers” montage. He’s done a great job with his green silk shirt and green silk, quilted jacket. For reals.

Are you tired? I bet Mick Jagger is tired. Maybe this will end soon. The show is wearing me down, but its also these “Criminal Intent: Suspect Activity” commercials.

[Kris Kristofferson, whom I actually adore.] Barbara Streisand. You’re going to hate me for saying this, but for the last 10 years the first thing I think when I see Babs is “I wonder what she’s hiding under all those clothes.” I guess I’m the kind of shithead that would buy a gossip rag if it promised bathing suit photos of her. I’m sure I’ll regret telling you that, but you know you think it, too.

[Nicky Menaj and W.i.l.l.I.A.M……..] Seriously, Will I.Am, stop dressing like Kayne West, please. Best Rap Album: Recovery, Eminem. I guess you probably know what I think about that. You’re only encouraging him, and you’ll pay for it.

[Puff Daddy] Black tuxedo pants, brown leather coat, bottom tooth grill. Rihanna and Drake “What’s My Name” performance.

[Jennifer Lopes and Mark Anthony] God, they have awful on-air chemistry. I hope it is better for them, at home. Record of the year. Need You Now, Lady Antebellum. Over Cee-Lo Green and over Empire State of Mind. This is stupid stupidness.

[Jason Seagull? Seegal?] Arcade Fire otherwise known as the band who have a band member play “moan/screaming into megaphone.” I wonder how that’s written in the score? Christ. They’ve got helmet wearing, camera wearing bike trick dudes on the stage. You effing losers. Get off the stage you fucking losers.

After that commercial break, I feel a sense of regret about what I said. Those guys on the bikes were only doing their jobs.

[Babs and Kris Kristofferson] Album of the year. The Suburbs, Arcade Fire. And then they run up to their instruments and play another song. Because they are from Montreal. I actually think it’s kind of awesome that their lead singer just needed to find a place to put down his Grammy award to start playing the song. Also, they have a girl drummer. Better said: one of the drummers is a girl. And that’s nice. Too bad the lead singer has an Austrian Nazi haircut. I’m sure he’s not a Nazi. He seems like a nice, Canadian boy. And I think there’s a lesson in this: just because you win a Grammy doesn’t mean you can stop working. Which is really, really profound, considering that most people who win Grammy awards are a 1,002 years old.

This just in: Kieran Healy is checking in via facebook and informs me that Turbo Tax is the corporate sponsor for the You Tube simulcast. This is exactly what I have been telling you is going on. TAXES ARE SO ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.

So, on that note, my cat and her monocle are ready for bed. I hope we’ll all remember the lesson we were taught by our armor-plated bird: Fuck you.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “the grampies

  1. This idea that awards should not go to older artists — you surely are not alone here. But it seems to apply only to the Grammies. Not to the Oscars, where graybeards like Michael Caine and Robert Altman kept getting nominated and nobody seems to object. Or TONYs. Or whatever the book awards thing is now. Why is popular music different?

    • Jonathan Neufeld

      Jay,

      I think it’s not so much the old people people, but the old music that is objectionable. It is old old music winning an award this year! If Paul McCartney were doing something new and interesting (like, say, covering Police songs with an orchestra–just kidding), then maybe it would be worth an award. And I know that it is the performance getting the award, but was there anything interesting about the performance? No. It was the same old performance, sung by the now-even-older guy. This might be impressive for physical reasons (how does his voice still do it!?), but not for award-worthy musical reasons.

      Interesting question about film. If Michael Caine and Robert Altman were just doing the same thing over and over again, then I think it would also be objectionable. And it sometimes is objectionable when the same actors get the nod again and again, when they haven’t really done anything all that remarkable (Michael Caine might be a good example here, but I’m not really committed to that). Imagine a 2010 remake of Taxi Driver with Robert De Niro playing Travis Bickle again, in just the same way (insofar as he can, given his age). Everything about the film is the same, but De Niro is as old as he is now. And imagine that this happened all the time. It’s hard to imagine that the movie would be placed in the same category as a new film. But this seems to be what happens in the Rock Performance category. The youngest person ever to be nominated (if Wikipedia can be trusted) for this is John Mayor (Beck is next), so maybe it just is the old-performing-the-old category.

  2. Here is an interesting look at the way nominees in major categories are altered to make sure that people will tune in even if the popular additions have next to no chance of winning: http://www.slate.com/id/2284690/

  3. mike3550

    I was laughing out loud in my office reading your summary of the events. You rock!

  4. Jenn Lena

    I’m so glad you posted that article, John. I hadn’t seen it and didn’t understand how the Grammy voting worked.
    I think Jonathan is wise to steer me away from the ageist argument I made to get a laugh and toward the problem with the aesthetic age (as it were) of the music celebrated by the Grammys. I should be the first to admit that award ceremonies are, by their very nature, an expression of sedimented culture. The radically new, the avant garde, and culture at the boundaries won’t and maybe shouldn’t be telecast on CBS between advertisements for the CSI franchise. That said, it is astounding that so few acts get nominated, and how many end-career artists are celebrated for making substantial, important contributions. Just as Billboard pulls these artists from the pop charts and tracks their catalogue sales on a parallel chart, it may be wise to think of some parallel system for awards.
    I’ll grant that there may be an album or two a year that merit multiple nominations, but looking across (the main) categories, you’ll see there are more like 8 or 9 albums treated this way. And a great number of them are produced by the same collectives that have had a lock on popular music for the last two, three, four, even five decades. This can’t be a good thing, particularly for young (particularly for young female) aspirants to a musical career. Again, this isn’t the manifest purpose of the Grammy awards, but it is a good criticism of them.

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