It’s been a few days since the 2015 Grammy Awards were given out. Since then, in the wake of the televised broadcast, the web has been all aflutter with debates over whether Beck or Beyoncé has greater artistry, whether a domestic abuse PSA by the President of the United States projected on a video screen during the awards will have positive or negative political impact, or if Paul McCartney should have sat down or continued to dance when the cameras landed on him. I’m more concerned about who the cameras didn’t land on and what that ultimately means about these awards and their significance in the mainstream of our culture.
Normally we feature a Grammy wrap up on this site but since information travels virtually at the speed of light on the internet these days, we figured that anyone reading us would already know who all the winners are. Then again, folks who clicked on Rolling Stone magazine’s “The Complete Winners List” or the coverage on two of the three major television network websites—NBC (which simply lifted their info from Rolling Stone) and ABC—were left completely in the dark about many of the awards that we would have been particularly concerned about. Admittedly CBS (the network that aired the broadcast which only featured the awards in categories fitting some executive’s rubric for what could be classified as mainstream pop music), has a complete list of the awards on their page, and CNN offers a list of “the awards you didn’t see” (though not on their main article about the Grammys).
If the Recording Academy feels that certain awards they give are not worthy of exposure on network television (which ultimately are the awards that wind up getting reported on in most of the media outlets and therefore the ones that most people are aware actually of), why give the awards in the first place? Aren’t these not-ready-for-prime-time awards ultimately those trees that are falling silently in the forest since no TV broadcast is there to record them for us to hear? Or does the fact that these awards were live streamed on the internet earlier in the day mean that a television broadcast is ultimately irrelevant since the time folks spend online now trumps the amount of time spent watching TV? In the true confessions department, rather than staying glued in front of a TV set at home, I followed the awards on my smartphone via Twitter at a restaurant where the big screen TV broadcasting the ceremony was drowned out by a live DJ.
The Recording Academy clearly has a problem with how to acknowledge diversity. Tons of pundits are now claiming that Beck and Beyoncé’s albums are so different from each other and that to lump them together is not fair to either of them. But what about albums (all 2015 Grammy winners) that are even more different than either of those—such as Cantaloupe’s recording of the Seattle Symphony’s performance of John Luther Adams’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning Become Ocean, Nonesuch’s recording of the St. Louis Symphony’s performances of two recent works by that other John Adams, Chick Corea’s jazz trio album Trilogy (which fetched him two awards), violinist Hilary Hahn’s compendium of encores newly composed for her (In 27 Pieces), a disc devoted to the 43-tone just intonation music of Harry Partch, or Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s The Offense of the Drum (which won for best Latin jazz album, a category the Academy tried to eliminate a few years back)? Are these albums served by the Grammys they’ve received if most folks don’t actually know they received them?
What would have happened if those albums were allowed to compete in the “Record of the Year” category? Would Kanye West have attempted to bum rush the show if Hilary Hahn or JLA got the nod? (That’s something that would have increased everyone’s awareness of those two extraordinary albums, and I say this as someone who is a huge fan of both Beck and Kanye.)
Some folks in our community are bent out of shape that the Grammy folks couldn’t properly say the name Pierre Bou-LEZ (since his lifetime achievement award did make it onto prime time). For me, it’s indicative of a much larger issue at stake here. If the general public is not made aware of the achievements of folks in all kinds of music, how can we expect anyone to know what anyone’s names are?