The Uberpop

The Problem with Musical Institutions

Posted in UberArticles by theuberpop on December 7, 2009

“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.” (  I’ll give you a minute to process that.

Everybody ready?  Excellent.  So, let’s discuss this year’s nominees (for the sake of everyone’s sanity I’ll focus on the big prize, “Album of the Year”.)  And the nominees are (thanks again to

Album Of The Year
(Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s), Recording Engineer(s)/Mixer(s) & Mastering Engineer(s), if other than the artist.)

  • I Am… Sasha Fierce
    Shondrae “Mr. Bangledesh” Crawford, Ian Dench, D-Town, Toby Gad, Sean “The Pen” Garrett, Amanda Ghost, Jim Jonsin, Beyoncé Knowles, Rico Love, Dave McCracken, Terius “The Dream” Nash, Radio Killa, Stargate, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, Ryan Tedder & Wayne Wilkins, producers; Jim Caruana, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Toby Gad, Kuk Harrell, Jim Jonsin, Jaycen Joshua, Dave Pensado, Radio Killa, Mark “Spike” Stent, Ryan Tedder, Brian “B-LUV” Thomas, Marcos Tovar, Miles Walker & Wayne Wilkins, engineers/mixers; Tom Coyne, mastering engineer
    [Music World Music / Columbia]
  • The E.N.D.
    The Black Eyed Peas, Jean Baptiste, Printz Board, DJ Replay, Funkagenda, David Guetta, Keith Harris, Mark Knight, Poet Name Life, Frederick Riesterer &, producers; Dylan “3D” Dresdow, Padraic “Padlock” Kerin &, engineers/mixers; Chris Bellman, mastering engineer
    [Interscope Records]
  • The Fame
    Lady Gaga
    Flo Rida, Colby O’Donis & Space Cowboy, featured artists; Brian & Josh, Rob Fusari, Martin Kierszenbaum, RedOne & Space Cowboy, producers; 4Mil, Robert Orton, RedOne, Dave Russell & Tony Ugval, engineers/mixers; Gene Grimaldi, mastering engineer
  • Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King
    Dave Matthews Band
    Rob Cavallo, producer; Chris Lord-Alge & Doug McKean, engineers/mixers; Ted Jensen, mastering engineer
    [RCA Records / Bama Rags Recordings, LLC.]
  • Fearless
    Taylor Swift
    Colbie Caillat, featured artist; Nathan Chapman & Taylor Swift, producers; Chad Carlson, Nathan Chapman & Justin Niebank, engineers/mixers; Hank Williams, mastering engineer
    [Big Machine Records]

There they are in all their glory, the top songs and albums of 2009 (according to the Recording Academy) listed “without regard to album sales or chart position.”  Now, let’s take a quick look at the top selling albums of 2009, thanks to The Chattanooga Pulse:

Top Selling Albums

1. Taylor Swift – “Fearless”
Sales in 2009: 1,316,000

2. Miley Cyrus – “Hannah Montana: The Movie”
Sales in 2009: 1,177,000

3. Eminem – “Relapse”
Sales in 2009: 1,169,000

4. Lady Gaga – “The Fame”
Sales in 2009: 976,000

5. Various Artists – “Twilight Soundtrack”
Sales in 2009: 971,000

6. U2 – “No Line on the Horizon”
Sales in 2009: 939,000

7. Nickelback – “Dark Horse”
Sales in 2009: 912,000

8. Rascal Flatts – “Unstoppable”
Sales in 2009: 825,000

9. Beyoncé – “I Am… Sasha Fierce”
Sales in 2009: 809,000

10. Dave Matthews Band – “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King”
Sales in 2009: 689,000

Notice anything?  Four of the five nominees are found on this list (#9, #4, #10 and #1 respectively), and the odd album out (“The E.N.D.”) has spent 25 weeks on the Billboard 200 album charts (debuting at #1 and bottoming out at #28 last week.)  One doesn’t remain on that list for that long without selling a serious number of records.  It would take a very naive individual to believe this to be mere coincidence.

If the Recording Academy wants to host a ratings-driven celebration of mediocrity and celebrity worship resembling a rerun of the MTV Video Music Awards, with preference given to the top of the top-sellers, that’s fine.  There’s likely enough money in the budget to stage another Kanye West/Taylor Swift bout.  I understand the critical condition of the recording industry and I’m sure some people in this crowd are having trouble paying the mortgage on their million-dollar homes, but I think many of us would greatly appreciate it if they would just be forthcoming with their intentions and dispense with the pretense of “artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence.”

Not to say that there wasn’t some incredible talent involved in the engineering/mixing/mastering of the nominated records (you know, the technical stuff that 13-year-old girls don’t care about), but the artistic achievement is in short supply here (I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure it takes a little more than a diamond-encrusted glove to create an “alter-ego.”)  Even the offering from the Dave Matthews Band is a bit of a soft choice.  Yes, I understand and appreciate that all musicians involved qualify at the virtuoso level, but this record – although better than much of their material released during this decade and certainly a more legitimate artistic offering than the other nominees – certainly wasn’t on par with some of the other “artistic achievements” of this year.

Where are the “buzz” artists who got all that “critical acclaim” in 2009: ie. Grizzly Bear, Phoenix, Wilco, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, even Jay-Z (although these artists are still very much a part of the “machine”)?  All of these artists released albums with far more artistic merit than the previously mentioned nominees.  Wait, you can find most of these artists…further down the page in the haystack of awards ascribed to an endless list of sub-genres that seem to exist solely as a means to placate people who don’t listen to top 40 radio.  As I scroll and scroll through this mess of oversimplification and, in some cases, complete misunderstanding of genre, a tiny thought breaches my consciousness and the longer I scroll, the more it makes sense: is it possible that we live in an era in which we are incapable of making bold statements like “these five artists made the best records of the year”?

I’ve addressed the issue of genre-disintegration before and the longer I sit with it, the more I feel, that because of the increasingly broad scope and subjective nature of what qualifies as “popular music” at this point in time, it is practically impossible to have a truly objective view of what would even begin to qualify a release as worthy of the title “Album of the Year” without glancing at chart position or album sales.  That’s how you know something has mass appeal, right?  But wait, we also live in a day and age where advertising and marketing dollars play more of a role in selling records than the artistic value of the product itself, which (in a very real way) discredits the correlation between artistic merit and album sales.  Also, the current financial state of the music industry being what it is, it is not lost on me that all five albums represented in the previously mentioned category are products of the major record labels (or subsidiaries of said labels) who hold a major stake in the Recording Academy, so it comes as no surprise that these labels are well represented in the nominations.  After all, the only way to save a billion-dollar industry that suffered a hemorrhage of $22 Billion+ in the last decade is through shallow pop songs and forced trends…not bold, artistic statements or music that may cause you to think a little.

So, what am I implying?  I suppose that the point of all this is to say that perhaps there was a time when the GRAMMY”S were a viable medium for commending musicians, composers and producers/engineers for outstanding work in their respective genres, but that institution seems to have lost sight of its purpose (if it ever truly lived up to it) due to the heavily commercial nature of the music industry and the splintering of musical genres into hundreds of different sub-genres.  Should we do away with the GRAMMY’s, or even the Recording Academy itself, altogether?  Maybe…maybe not.  What I do know is that what there is a notable discrepancy between what the GRAMMY’s propagate and reward and what their “mission statement” implies.  If this institution’s actual purpose is to honor those artists with more commercial value than artistic value, that’s fine.  Let’s just call it what it is.


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  1. […] the Recording Academy wants to host a ratings-driven celebration of mediocrity and celebrity worship resembling a rerun of the MTV Video Music Awards, with preference given to the top of the top-sellers, that’s fine. … […]

  2. […] This post was Twitted by calvinhicks […]

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