Grammys 2013: EDM Is Dead, Long Live EDM!
Now that the Academy is done with dance music, it can return to its natural habitats
I never thought I’d say this, but, as far as electronic dance music is concerned, last night’s Grammys were actually the best possible scenario. (Okay, that’s a lie. The best possible scenario would have been a full-scale military invasion by Liechtenstein, with stormtrooper ninjas shimmying down ropes in the Staples Center while Al Walser shot lasers from his fingertips, chanting, “I am the mouse that roared!”)
But within the realm of actual possibility, it really couldn’t have gone any better. Skrillex won everything. Everything! His “Bangarang” won Best Dance Recording. His Bangarang won Best Dance/Electronica Album (even though I’m pretty sure it’s technically an EP, but who cares?). And his remix of Nero’s “Promises” — actually, the remix is credited to both him and Nero, but that’s close enough — won Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical, which is the only other category that electronic-music fans really get to call their own.
For the second year in a row, Sonny Moore — a mousey former screamo kid turned Pied Piper of EDM — shut out all competitors in an epic double trifecta.
It’s impossible not to be happy for the self-made bass sensation, because seriously — how can you be mad at that guy? Superstar DJs (or “DJs,” anyway) don’t come much less pretentious. “Just so thankful for all the positive people in my life,” he tweeted after his hat trick, just before his phone’s battery ran out. “I really do owe my success to this amazing global community weve built together.” Dude is posi to the core.
More importantly, Sonny’s triple win actually rewarded just about the only person up there who honestly does things his way; he’s Frank Sinatra compared to most of the jokers who got nominations this year. (No shots at the Chemical Brothers and Photek; they’re cool. But let’s not kid ourselves, either: Neither artist is at the top of their game these days, even if the ChemBros’ Don’t Think was, reportedly, one hell of a film. But they’ve been raving on their laurels for too long, busying themselves with film scores and concert documentaries when they really need to come back and show people how main-stage electronic music is done.) Whether you like his music or not, you can’t deny that Skrillex has invented a sound all his own, injected a healthy dose of punk-rock insouciance into a scene choking on its own ego, and managed to surprise us, again and again, with his decidedly original OWSLA label.
Let’s just compare his competitors in the Best Dance Recording category. Avicii’s a one-hit wonder whose “Levels” has long overstayed its welcome. Calvin Harris knows his way around a hook, but his Ne-Yo-fronted “Let’s Go” really should have been nominated in a pop category. Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child” combines bombast and bathos in a way that exemplifies the very worst of Vegas-style EDM and pop, their devil’s handshake creating a pernicious byproduct in the way that cocaine and alcohol combine in the bloodstream to manufacture a distinct super-toxin. From their fingers-in-the-air poses to their interminable “farewell tour” — seriously, aren’t they done yet? — no artist better exemplifies the self-important hubris of big-ticket EDM these days.
Oh, and of course there was Al Walser, the guy who came to the ceremony dressed in a head-to-toe astronaut suit and planted a flag emblazoned with his name on the red carpet. (What, did he get confused and think that this was the MTV Video Music Awards? Was he hoping to connect with oldsters who still remember this?)
Walser made for an entertaining diversion, but his nomination was a major embarrassment for the Grammys, proving just how out of touch the RIAA’s members are when it comes to contemporary electronic dance music. The issue wasn’t that he was a total unknown; it was that his song, “Can’t Live Without You” couldn’t by any reasonable standard be considered representative of electronic dance music. Not sonically, not stylistically, not culturally — just, no.
Never mind the fact that nominating the author of a book called Musicians Make It Big: An Insider Reveals the Secret Path to Break in Today’s Music Industry really wasn’t a good look for an industry association desperate to regain some of its credibility. Nor, for that matter, was the fact that Walser’s “Can’t Live Without You (Malibu Remix)” apparently contained elements of Zedd’s “Spectrum.” (When the German producer confronted Walser on Twitter about his unauthorized borrowing, the Cut the Bull mini-mogul’s response was “dear zedd – i’m a big fan of your music and this was NOT meant to be and NOT my idea. if want me to take the remix off itunes, LMK.” Cut the bull, indeed)
We might actually have Walser to thank for Skrillex’s triple win, however. It’s well known that voting in niche categories like dance music often comes down to name recognition: Many Grammy voters, after all, are grey-haired dudes who engineered that one Yes record a bazillion years ago, and wouldn’t know Deadmau5 from Sum 41. After Walser’s nomination proved that the Grammy nominating committee wasn’t paying enough attention to EDM, many voters probably instinctively cast their ballots for the most obvious name on the list, whether or not they even knew how to pronounce it.
It’s clear that the Academy was distancing itself from EDM this year. After last year’s painful onstage mashup of David Guetta, Deadmau5, and a truly miserable-looking Dave Grohl, the Grammys’ talent bookers this year decided to do away with dance music altogether, opting instead for the pop, country, rock, and R&B that constitute the academy’s bread and butter. Like I said, it couldn’t have gone any better: We were spared the prospect of some kind of gruesome Cirque du Swedish House Mafia revue, which means that dance music can go back to the clubs and raves where it thrives and belongs. (Or, in the case of Avicii’s “Levels,” the middle-school proms and bar mitzvahs.) So let’s thank Al Walser one last time before we forget his name forever; he cut the sacrificial bull so that EDM may live on.