Ten Things We Learned While Watching the 2011 Grammys

Abraham Simpson summed up our relationship with music better than anyone. We used to be ‘with it,’ but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what we’re ‘with’ isn’t ‘it,’ and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to us. That description also applies to some of the kids who are neck-deep in contemporary pop, since there are so many different options, it’s easier than ever to be your own musical island.

This, however, makes it difficult to throw a party celebrating the “best” music of the past year, since it really only covers the best of the popular music, and due to rigid programming, most popular music isn’t terribly good. This inspired us to watch the Grammy Awards for the first time in ages, just to see what we could glean from how the machine currently operates. What we discovered might surprise you. Could it be that the industry is lying about their financial woes?

The music industry is doing awesome

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences throws its annual Hooray For Us party – you know, the one that nets roughly four times as many viewers as last night’s broadcast – it’s held in a venue like the Kodiak Theater, which seats just over 3,400 people. Last night’s Grammy Awards were held in the Staples Center, which seats 20,000. If you equate the size of the venue for your party to the health of your company, that means that the music industry is making six times as much money as the movie industry. So don’t listen to their pitiful cries of how much money they’re losing to illegal downloads, lack of interest, etc. If they were really that despondent, they wouldn’t blow that much money on one party…would they? After all, that would just be foolish and irresponsible.

And while we’re on the subject of fiscal responsibility, we have a suggestion for them…

The music business would turn profitable tomorrow if they got rid of backup dancers

If you include Muse’s uprisers, there were nearly 80 people who served as dancers, or fire breathers, or as something other than a musician or a singer, in the various performances from last night’s show. That can’t be cheap, and really, what do they add? If anything, they’re a telltale sign that said performer doesn’t really have much to offer in a live setting. We have an idea that will save them millions: The labels should adopt a policy similar to the one that the airline industry uses to fleece its customers, and bill their artists for using dancers. And not even in a ‘we’ll take it out of your royalties’ way; actually make the artists pay cash out of their pockets for the dancers. Boom, they disappear just like that. Tours get cheaper, everyone makes more money. Just a thought.

Justin Bieber might be the real deal

For a kid who’s about to turn 17, Justin Bieber is remarkably well composed. He can sing, of that there is no doubt, but last night he showed just how comfortable he was as a performer while maintaining some modesty at the same time. The last time we saw someone cover so much ground, it was Justin Timberlake, and we all saw how he turned out. Someone’s gotta give that kid a new haircut, though. He looks like a lesbian.

Even the Recording Academy knows that no one cares who wins these awards

In three and a half hours, they gave away 11 Grammys, or roughly one every 19 minutes. The rest were done in advance. Sorry, Black Keys, but you won’t have the chance to thank your wives and managers for their support on air. They’ll have to settle for a phone call or a text message, like a sucker. Geez, even the sound editors for movies get to thank their wives on national television.

Jimmy Stafford, Patrick Monahan and Scott Underwood of the band Train hold their award for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals for “Hey, Soul Sister” at the 53rd Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 13, 2011. UPI/Phil McCarten

If Train wins a Grammy, and nobody cares, did they still win?

If you wear sunglasses indoors, and you’re not Jack Nicholson, you just look like a douche

Granted, we knew this already, but man, were there a lot of Corey Harts in attendance last night. Our quick list of the guilty: Donnie Wahlberg, Lenny Kravitz, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, will.i.am, Usher, LL Cool J, and Bruno Mars. Unless you’re high, take the damn glasses off.

Katy Perry doesn’t use Auto-Tune live

That might sound like an insult, but to be honest, it was kind of refreshing to see Perry, um, let it all hang out, especially after the blockbuster tribute to Aretha Franklin that opened the show (more on that later). Watching her last night was like watching the internal struggle of a pop star who loves being ogled but craves respect. Don’t be surprised if her next record is decidedly more serious.

Why doesn’t anybody take me seriously?

Arcade Fire knew they were going to win Album of the Year

How else were they so prepared to jump back on stage and play another song? Because they knew they’d have to. The producers will probably argue that they asked all Album of the Year nominees to be prepared to perform another number, but Jesus, their instruments were already up there. Also, did you notice that they didn’t give out a single Grammy to someone who wasn’t in attendance? Not a single ‘such and such artist wasn’t able to be here tonight, so we accept this on their behalf’ speech. Did anyone show up not knowing whether they were going to win or lose? We’re betting against it.

Muppets make everything better

Usher may have had the busiest performance, but the best performance of the evening, bar none, was Cee Lo Green dueting with Gwyneth Paltrow – side note to Paltrow: you’re beautiful, but the low-cut dress makes you look like you’re trying too hard, and lose the heels – performing the brilliantly titled “The Song Otherwise Known as ‘Forget You’” with a bunch of muppets. THAT’S how you put on a TV performance, people.


Photo credit: Kevin Winter, Getty

Christina Aguilera is physically incapable of just singing the damn song

If you put her in a “Saw”-type device, where she inched closer and closer to death for every melisma-drenched vocal run she sang, she’d be the quickest death in the series’ history. There’s no question that she has pipes, and that tribute to Aretha Franklin was superb (and wow, check out Jennifer Hudson), but enough with the histrionics, already. We get it, you can sing. Now just sing the fucking song, instead of singing around it.

Songwriting is greatly undervalued in today’s musical climate

While we’re disappointed that “Fuck You” didn’t win Record of the Year or Song of the Year, we’ll grant the academy that Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” is a damn good tune. Several of the other winners, however, seemed to have won because of the overall package, not the song they’re singing. Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” and “Nothin’ on You,” B.o.B.’s duet with Bruno Mars, are both grossly underwritten, with an air of calculation that makes our nostrils flare. The Janelle Monae song was a little better – and while it’s great to see Motown make a comeback in the pop realm, it should have happened two years ago when Raphael Saadiq released The Way I See It – but even it had more spirit than substance. And don’t get us started on that goddamn Train song.

Laugh all you want at Babs performing “Evergreen” and showing that she’s lost some power, but “Evergreen” is a song. People will remember that one 30 years from now. No one, however, will remember “Nothin’ on You.”

Some other observations:

John Mayer wants to be Johnny Depp
Mick Jagger hasn’t eaten in 20 years
Ricky Martin is color blind. Or possibly just blind
Bob Dylan would sound better if Tom Waits sang on his behalf. Think about that one for a second. Yes, it’s that bad.

  

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