Monday, February 12, 2007

The 49th Annual Grammy Awards Made Me Mad: A Surprisingly Long Post

Stupid Grammys. Grr. Grr!

This is one of those posts where I intended for it to be kind of short and then got incensed enough to write for forever. So you may want to go get a sandwich first.

So! Last night I went over to my Mom's house to watch the 49th Annual Grammy Awards Telecast with the family; our general consensus about this year's show was that it sucked. A lot.

(I should note before we move on: my sister raged indignant at me right upon my arrival, because she too was in Texas and helped out with the purchase of the mask mentioned previously on this site. Ten minutes later I got a word in edgewise and agreed to post an addendum, so, an addendum: big-ups to homegirl.)

In no real order, here are some salient points I wish to address.

-- The name 'Grammys' should have been changed to 'Apologies' for the evening, because that is the only possible reasoning anybody can offer for the Dixie Chicks getting five of them last night.

Yes. We get it. They had a rough time of it, nobody in Nashville learned their lesson from Johnny Cash decades ago, put a couple dudes in the Dixie Chicks and they could have said whatever they want, blah blah dick so on and so forth.

So now that their latest album has been selling like gangbusters, and its single 'Not Ready to Make Nice' (which was by no means the best song of the past year, by the way, not even close -- it wasn't even the best country song of the past year) broke popularity records on music video channels, now that Oprah has been using her seemingly infinite powers to push them to the moon, now that both the album and its songs are tearing up the charts -- well, gee, now the music establishment is sorry!

So here, Dixie Chicks! Have every Grammy that we can throw at you without being completely blatant about it!

My mother loves the Dixie Chicks. She respects the Dixie Chicks, what they've gone through, and what they've accomplished. She owns their latest album, the now-Grammy-winning album, and enjoys it very much. And even she found herself unable to justify the Dixie Chicks winning the awards they did.

This speaks volumes, I think.

-- My mother, I should note, was watching the show specifically for the reunion of The Police.

And with good reason. The Police were awesome last night! Absolutely, incredibly awesome! These are men of distinguishment and incredible talent, brilliant veterans of their craft and pioneers of popular music as we understand it today; they were, by far, the best part of the show.

You know, for the, uh... for the one song that they were allowed to play.

The Police got one song in, at maybe three or four minutes tops. The combination of John Legend (who is awesome), Corinne Bailey Rae (who is okay) and John Meyer (who was baked, oh man, did you see that guy) got maybe five minutes between the three of them combined to each play a snippet of their song. Earth, Wind & Fire... well, I'm going to get to Earth, Wind & Fire.

Justin Timberlake got two segments, for three songs and one mysterious pre-taped sitdown interview, probably totalling a good ten minutes. The Red Hot Chili Peppers got to perform anything at all, which is terrible; watching the Red Hot Chili Peppers nowadays is like watching Fat Elvis Presley, except sadder. And Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts combined for four songs, none of which were theirs, three of which were (bleh) Don Henley songs, and one of which was (double bleh) 'Hotel California'. How many times, estimated, do you suppose a person hears 'Hotel California' in their life? If you answered 'too many', you are correct.

Nice to see you, Sting and the Police! It was all downhill after you guys!

-- Man, were people ever eager to thank Jesus for their success last night. You know what I want to see? One day somebody should go up there and earnestly thank Allah, just to watch people freak.

Is anybody else suspect of the idea that the Judeo-Christian conceit concept of a higher power was wielding its immeasurable power over all things in the universe to make sure that Carrie Underwood won Best New Artist? And if it's that important to the guy, shouldn't we be worried for everybody who voted for other people on American Idol?

-- Both Justin Timberlake segments were absolutely brutal, but for different reasons.

The first performance began with a clip of Timberlake talking about just how awesome his latest single is, then went to the live feed of him playing that song. And by 'playing that song', I mean 'desperately aping Chris Martin's performance three years ago, right down to the set design'.

Boy, though -- isn't it nice to know how far music, and society as a whole, has come since those early days? Remember the dark ages when a white performer would take front and centre stage, all the lights solely on him, while the vast and predominantly black backup band would be placed way in the back and receive no recognition for the major role they play in the music we love? How nice to know those times are long gone! Ha ha! I think my facetiousness gland is hemorraging!

Then, because the segment wasn't already enough of an annoyance, Justin Timberlake held a camera right to his face and began to jerk and twitch around like a Spazbot 5000 from the Planet Spaz. This is supposed to indicate his transition into a serious artist as he performs (what he had gone on and on about as being) the best song he's ever written. I'm sure that's what he was going for.

Cassandra Szklarski, writing the horrendous coverage piece that appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press this morning, incorrectly describes the sequence:

Justin Timberlake then offered a nod to music's digital age with a performance that began on piano but ended with him filming himself onstage with a handheld camera, producing images familiar to any YouTube viewer.

Cute guess, woman whose name I do not recognize, but no. Justin Timberlake was filming himself onstage with a handheld camera, producing images familiar to any Peter Gabriel fan -- because Peter Gabriel was using the same filming technique on his Secret World Live tour thirteen fucking years ago. And when Peter Gabriel used his camera-right-in-the-face idea for the live version of 'Digging in the Dirt', he knew that it comes across as creepy and disturbing; that was the entire point of the trick, and it made an already atmospheric and spooky tune all the better for it. By comparison, I don't even remember what the song Timberlake was playing sounds like; what I remember is him waving a camera in front of himself, clearly heady with his own brilliance, because this is his best song ever.

The second Timberlake segment involved that rancid text-message-voting Grammy Moment garbage, which I doubt I can actually write about at all because the overflow of sarcasm in my head would blind me permanently. But rest assured that I did not like it for a variety of reasons!

-- Speaking of the Winnipeg Free Press coverage, read this paragraph taken from the article and see if anything strikes you as an unnecessary inclusion.

"Well, to quote the great 'Simpsons:' heh-heh!" front woman Natalie Maines said to laughter and applause from the audience, referring to a snide taunt oft-heard on the animated TV show.




-- Shakira is originally from Columbia. Wyclef Jean is originally from Haiti. Their combined hit single 'Hips Don't Lie' is classified as 'Latin pop'.

Would anybody like to explain just why the hell they were dancing around the stage incarnation of those horrible Tandoori Doritos ads? Whose idea was this?

-- If her father wasn't the owner of a record label and her longtime partner wasn't the owner of another record label and one of the most powerful and influential men in music today, would anybody still know who Beyonce is? Or is she just that strong an independent woman and I'm a mean man for even questioning this?

-- Now, if you thought you heard what sounded like modem noises and then screaming last night during the show, you need not have been alarmed; that was the sound of three Red Hot Chili Peppers phoning it in last night, then Flea's back giving out as he strained to try and carry them all to a watchable performance.

Chris Rock introduced the Red Hot Chili Peppers as "the best band in the world", which is how we now know that Chris Rock is a liar. The Red Hot Chili Peppers weren't even the best band performing last night, which all things considered is pretty depressing.

My mother knows precious little about the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or why almost everything they've done in the past decade has been so demoralizing. She sure liked Flea, though -- and rightfully so! God bless Flea, still doing his damnedest to keep the music moving while Kiedis fails to sing anything properly ever and the reanimated remains of Frusciante pick listlessly at the ruinous splatter mockingly referred to as his current musical direction.

(I'm a music writer! Whee!)

My sister made the point that all the older 'alternative' bands seemed to mellow out at the same time, with Dave Grohl leading the pack. And this is true. The thing with Dave Grohl, however, is that he is genuinely good at what he does; he could play any of the instruments on that stage, sing while doing it, and come up with something that blows his contemporaries out of the water like a demented game of Battleship. Anthony Kiedis, upon mellowing out, seems to have gone completely tone-deaf. There is a slight contrast here.

Did you see Flea, there, playing with all the energy in the world and throwing himself into the music as only a dedicated musician can? Remember when the entire band shared that enthusiasm? Man, those were the days. I feel old, holy shit.

So the Red Hot Chili Peppers won four Grammys, and my little brother and I booed them. Then everybody had a good laugh because Kiedis was trying to talk into the microphone, hold the Grammy, and show off his supermasculine biceps all at the same time. Little dude, you're maybe 5'9'' in high shoes. You are not impressing anybody with your physique.

-- My mother watched the Grammys for the Police, but my little brother watched the Grammys for Earth, Wind & Fire. He was looking very forward to seeing them, and so was I.

With good reason. They are Earth, Wind & Fire. Earth. Wind. And Fire. Motherfucker.

So when it was announced that EWF were going to be performing "with Mary J. Blige", I swear I could hear the alarm bells going off in my brother's head.

Again -- with good reason.

One member of EWF got maybe thirty seconds of screen time under the lights where people could see him. This was as a backup singer to Ludacris.

EWF. Used as part of the backup band. For Ludacris and Mary J. Blige.

Then it got worse.

Earth, Wind & Fire were relegated to the darkened background of the stage, briefly visible from time to time if you squinted really hard, as Blige and Luda launched into the ol' heartrending story of runaways and child sex and whatnot. To make sure people understood that the song is supposed to be sad, giant video screens above the stage began playing what was basically the music video for the song.

EWF. Used as part of the backup band for Ludacris and Mary J. Blige, in the background, in almost complete darkness, underneath giant well-lit video screens showing a music video for the song being played.

Then it got worse.

As mentioned previously, the song is supposed to be sad. This is precisely why Blige was wearing a bright red jumpsuit and Luda threw his suit jacket into the crowd. (Shut up, I'm sure this makes sense to someone.) But the possibility existed that the crowd may have still remained unconvinced by the sad music, lyrics about child pregnancy, accompanying music video, and jacket-throwing that this was in fact supposed to be a sad song.

And so out came a procession of children carrying candles, a corridor of kids that was just long enough to stretch across the whole stage.

EWF. Used as part of the backup band for Ludacris and Mary J. Blige, in the almost complete darkness of the background, underneath giant video screens showing a music video, and now well hidden behind a line of frowning children carrying candles.

Then. It got worse.

Just to make sure that the whole connection-with-the-audience thing was being driven home to its utmost, Luda and Mary led the kids out onto a second stage to make sure everybody figured out what was going on here.

So. Earth, Wind & Fire. Genuine R&B, funk and soul progenitors and legends Earth, Wind & Fire. Used as part of the backup band for Mary J. Blige and Ludacris, underneath giant music-video screens, hidden in almost complete darkness and standing fifty feet behind the two 'main' performers and a phalanx of frowning candle-wielding children (because BE SAD GOD DAMN IT) on an entirely different stage.

My brother and I took this in stride. By booing. We did a lot of booing for the rest of the night.

-- Now, I must say, of course the Grammys weren't all bad.

Some deserving acts won -- quietly and with scant seconds of mention on the show proper, but still victorious and recognized as the best that music had to offer in the past year.

Bob Dylan won multiple Grammys without even needing to show up. (Remember when they wouldn't give him one, so the other powers that be in entertainment caved in and threw him an oscar for 'Things Have Changed'? Good times!)

David Spade showed up and was David Spade, which is always good; Common showed up and was Common, which is always awesome. And T.I. trying to look casual, then dropping the envelope as he tried to slip it into his suit jacket? That was absolute comedy gold. Oh, my, how we laughed hard at that. That T.I., always good for an easy chuckle!

Gnarls Barkley was awesome, as Gnarls Barkley always is. My mother thought Gnarls Barkley was one person -- but, then, I wouldn't be surprised if a horribly large majority thought the same thing. And you know they think Cee-Lo is the one guy, because Danger Mouse is never going to get the proper recognition he deserves. Never. Still, though, they won Grammys and that was good; why they won in the alternative category of all places is a mystery and a half, but they won and that was good.

Also good: James Blunt, that miserable looking drowned rat of a man, won nothing. This pleases me, and pleases everyone I know. Eat it, Blunt.

And, as mentioned before, the Police ruled it. That'll be all I remember about this year's Grammy Awards in the years to come, and I'm very glad for that.

But yeah, overall the Grammys were terrible. Terrible enough that I'll go off for several pages at a time about them? Yes! And in our modern wired era of easy access to music of all origins and styles from all around the world, that's all the attention we even need to grant them before losing interest and rocking out hard to whatever interesting new thing floats down the pike.

Which is just the perfect setup for me to pass along this interesting new thing! The perfect cleanser to wash away the residue of last night's debacle, with a title perfectly apropos for our troubled times:

Medeski, Martin & Wood - Where's the Music? [label -- free downloads]

Our beloved modern day grand wizards of jazz evolution, MMW are putting out a new album in April. Yes! And it's going to be a children's album! Ye--wate wut

To think, here I'd been worried occasionally about the state of music and what the future generations will have to look forward to. Where my generation looks back fondly at the surprisingly good Sesame Street arrangements or the theme from the Littlest Hobo, would kids these days grow up only to remember 'My Humps' or whatever horrible pieces of shit Phil Collins sneaks into Disney movies these days?

Well, my friends, I'm not worried any more. Because future generations will be able to reminisce by looking at each other, blurting "WHERE'S THE MUSIC?" in their most excited voices, and then dancing like maniacs to the funkiest music aimed at kids since Fat Albert was not a horrible movie relevant.

I can't tell you in mere words how happy this song makes me. I wouldn't even be able to properly tell you in pictures, which is just as well because it would be me wearing an Ultimo Guerrero mask and grinning like an absolute idiot.

My birthday is April 18th, and the album is slated for 'April 2007'; if this is not out by my birthday, I intend to go to my room and throw a hilariously oversized tantrum where nobody can see me. That is how important this is to me.

So download this song, listen to it, love it, and be happy -- and if this doesn't win the Grammy for Best Children's Album or whatever next year, that's just one more sign that the Grammys don't apply to people like you and me.

We are rebels. We are cool. And now I will dance to children's music as though my very life depends on it.

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