This Sunday's 56th Grammy Awards left viewers with a number of memorable moments, but only confirmed one thing: the award show is not out to reward the year's best music. More than anything, the award show that fills January's one football-free Sunday allows viewers to marvel in the ridiculous, dawdle in nostalgic images of music's past, and gauge the national trajectory on social issues.
As Variety was quick to point out, Pharell's "Smokey the Bear" Hat was quite the hit on Twitter. Add this to Macklemore, Trombone Shorty, and Madonna's ensemble coinciding with the marriage of 33 same-sex couples and it becomes clear that Grammy's night will never be about Album or Song of the Year. The question then becomes what are the larger implications of America's top music award ceremony having an identity that has nothing to do with music? What is America's music future and does it matter?
A large portion of those commenting on Twitter and having their voices heard in the blog-o-sphere have been millenials who consume much of today's popular music. There should be no doubt that this generation of 18-to-34-year-olds drives the national conversation and production of music. Accordingly, tastes change much more rapidly than in prior decades.
Reinforced by this year's display, the Grammy's have become more of a forum for social commentary. What once stood as an awards show to recognize the best music of the year, "Music's Greatest Night" no longer goes by that measuring stick. Instead, to many it appears that the Grammy's are not giving an accurate depiction how the music culture of today stands, particularly for college students.
Zoe Bjornson, senior at Tulane University and the Marketing Director for Sweet Lemon Media, points out that this "defines our generation perfectly. We are versatile, transitional and ever-changing."
While some people view millenials fickle preferences as negative, Bjornson disagrees.
"We have a few months, maybe a year or two, where an artist is killing it, and then something new comes along," she said. "It gives listeners a variety and a choice and I think that's definitely a good thing."
In this day and age, college students are not listening to music based off of Grammy success. The show on Sunday night was much more a concert for a national audience staging itself as an award show to recognize the industry's best performances. Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney trying to recreate old magic is not representative of today's music. It's a ratings push.
Nick Yannopoulos, a junior and jazz musician at Colgate University who studies music cites the Grammy's as reflecting not top quality music, but rather what drove a profit that calendar year. Considering himself a mass-consumer of music, he pays little attention to the awards themselves, and does not base his music taste off of what is praised by the golden statue.
"The Grammy's depiction of 'good music' has more emphasis on popularity than musical quality and intricacy," he said.
Yannopoulos noted that often times music that might be original and creative does not equate notable recognition by the awards.
"Artists that are able to appeal to the popular ear make money, and therefore gain access to the best producers, recording studios," he explained. "The best music is often less celebrated, less well known, and less financially successful. Authenticity does not always sell."
While the Grammy's stand as the Holy Grail of the music industry, the pomp-and-circumstance fails to accurately celebrate what today's music scene provides.
"The Grammy's will always fall short of truly depicting good music," Yannopoulos said, "because there is no concrete criteria, it is almost entirely based upon personal opinions and motives."
Katie Rydell, a senior at Colgate, a self proclaimed "music aficionado," recognizes the pressures that the Grammy's face when representing viewers' desires. But she tuned in on Sunday night not to be told what was the best to come out of the music industry that year, but rather for an entertaining evening show.
"The majority of the artists recognized are top 40, who might not necessarily be the best, but they pull in viewers," she said. "I definitely think there are better artists that deserve to be recognized, but the performers at the Grammys represent good music for many people."
While she feels that the Grammy's do give more attention to profit-generating artists, Rydell's perception of the shock value behind some artists' performances in order to remain current gives her hope for music around today.
"Lorde had the simplest performance and I found it to be the most refreshing and beautiful of the night," Rydell said. "Artists want to be talked about, and I think the easiest way to be in the headlines is to have a shocking performance ... some shock comes with the best music, and some is definitely just for the show."
In a society where creating viral content is desired, it should not be a surprise that the production of award shows strives for that very goal. Yet music is a critical component of every society's culture representing its values and creative energy. The award that used to praise the best of the best in the music world no longer reflects such quality, and instead has become a parade of flashy performances, highlighting the artists that had the most commercial success. What happens with music matters and is worth our attention.
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