The Grammys complete their Pop transition – Is there a future for Soul?

 

(February 8, 2015) Tonight, the Grammy Awards completed their transition. It took 57 years, but they finally reached the resting place toward which they had been traveling for awhile: They are now the American Music Awards with better outfits. With a prime time show taken straight from the Top 40 charts, these prestigious awards have moved from once being the travelogue of the greatest music in the world to essentially becoming a belated Super Bowl halftime show, full of spectacle and hits, but less musically interesting than at any time before. The prime time Grammys are now the awards for Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop and Country, and the performances are limited to the biggest hits of the year along with a series of sometimes interesting, sometimes awkward artist pairings.

 

(February 8, 2015) Tonight, the Grammy Awards completed their transition. It took 57 years, but they finally reached the resting place toward which they had been traveling for awhile: They are now the American Music Awards with better outfits. With a prime time show taken straight from the Top 40 charts, these prestigious awards have moved from once being the travelogue of the greatest music in the world to essentially becoming a belated Super Bowl halftime show, full of spectacle and hits, but less musically interesting than at any time before. The prime time Grammys are now the awards for Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop and Country, and the performances are limited to the biggest hits of the year along with a series of sometimes interesting, sometimes awkward artist pairings.

Twenty years ago, the Grammys were criticized by some for being too inclusive, as young viewers yawned during segments devoted to Jazz, Gospel, Latin or Classical music. Others criticized the Grammys for being out of touch, as too many awards (most notoriously the 1989 Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy for long-past-its-prime Jethro Tull) went to artists due more to name recognition than to the relevance of their nominated release. Well, those criticisms can hardly be levied at the 2015 Grammy Award show, which is all about what is at the top of the pop charts here and now. Unfortunately, that “progress” has left something beautiful behind, and only the Grammys can get it back.

While the biggest music of the year is celebrated on the prime time show, most of the greatest music of the year is relegated to the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony, the internet-only afternoon show. The Premiere Ceremony, with its half empty auditorium and its blurry, buffering video, isn’t particularly well produced or even very interesting in its rote presentation of dozens and dozens of awards. But it does occasionally include the kind of amazing non-pop performances that used to be staples of the prime time Grammys (such as this year’s killer quartet of Nathan East, Robert Glasper, Billy Hart & Joe Lovano). It also gives recognition to immensely talented artists, like Roots Gospel winner Mike Farris, who won’t be exposed to mass audiences any other time. Farris and artists like him personify the greatest irony of the new and improved Grammys: the critically acclaimed artists and genres pushed to the afternoon show are often those who could benefit most from even cursory prime time television exposure. Instead, they are relegated to the graveyard shift while prime time gives us Katy Perry for the zillionth time.

So, the ship has sailed on the prime time Grammy Awards as a diverse musical journey. The Grammys of today are the MTV Awards, the Billboard Awards and The American Music Awards all rolled together into a bigger production with more “stars.” It is a pop music spectacle for suburban America. And while older or more passionate music fans will bemoan the dumbing down of a musical institution, ratings the past few years have been high and young people are tuning in at numbers greater than ever, casting the die on what the prime time show will be for the foreseeable future.

But, while things look bleak for the treatment of musical styles that many of us love, all isn’t necessarily lost. Is it possible that the commercial success and reach of the somewhat narrowcast Grammys could possibly lead to greater standalone opportunities for at least some of the ignored categories of music? Are there other ways that the Grammys can separately and successfully honor these genres in a major public way? Forget the current pre-show. That format and presentation are not worthy of the Grammy name. But what about something similar to the Latin Grammys? A real R&B, Jazz and/or Gospel Grammys show on cable television with strong production values and meaningful awards could give these genres the shine they deserve in front of a television audience. And it would complement the smaller awards shows that already exist in those genres, but that lack the Grammy gravitas. While it would never have the impact of the principal Grammy Awards, it would certainly be better for all than the status quo. It would provide music fans the opportunity to discover new and varied music again – one of the principal tenets of the Grammy Foundation - and, if there is truly an audience out there (which we think there is), it could be a way to successfully and profitably extend the Grammy brand. It is a thought worth entertaining, and a chance for the Grammys to take back the mantle of musical leadership and to again separate this legendary institution from the plethora of faceless, by-the-numbers pop music television spectacles that it now appears to be embracing as peers. Think about it.

By Chris Rizik

 
SoulTracks Choice Cut - Toni Redd - "Underneath My Skin"
Song of the Month - Stokley - "Level"
CD of the Month - Phil Perry - Breathless
Pre-order now! - Norman Brown - Let It Go

Leave a comment!