It’s Okay–The Grammys Are Useless and Everyone Knows It
The net result of this year’s Grammys is that America has momentarily been cleaved in two. In one group are all the people who either don’t really care who won at the Grammys this year or are simply okay with the fact that the three major awards were bestowed upon Bruno Mars. In the other group are the people exasperated by Bruno Mars having beaten Kendrick Lamar, and to a lesser extent Jay-Z. (There is actually a third group—Bruno Mars and his friends, bosses, and business partners—but we can ignore them.) The first group is much larger than the second group—Grammys ratings plunged to a new low this year—but the need for this division is nonexistent. The Grammys mean next to nothing and this is blatantly apparent to everyone. Plus, Bruno Mars is good.
In evaluating how mad you or anyone else should be about Kendrick and Jay-Z losing in the album, song, and record of the year categories, it’s necesary to remember that for at least the last two decades, the history of music has been written not in accordance with the Grammys but in opposition to them. Generally speaking, awards are how we order history; this is true across society, from things like the Grammys and the Oscars, to Most Valuable Player awards in sports, to even the Nobel Prize. The point of awarding such trophies is not just to flatter people, but to sketch out a shorthand history of culture, an easy way for people to understand what mattered the most in any given year. If anything, the overwrought pomp and circumstance of awards shows, to say nothing of the current microcosmic dissection of those shows by the great content machine, helps obscure the nominal importance of the awards themselves.
But the Grammys are unique in that the choices for winners in its most prestigious category are just clearly bullshit. If you were a young kid in the process of consciously forming his or her own taste and you looked at the list of Best Picture winners at the Oscars, it would require a certain amount of effort to understand that The English Patient is worse than Fargo and Forrest Gump than Pulp Fiction, or that Titanic is schlock, or that Crash is awful, or that The King’s Speech is worthless, or that The Artist exists. Such truths do not immediately jump off the page. But for the Grammys, and especially for Album of the Year, this is not the case. It would take only the most passing understanding of the recent history of music—of what was good and what wasn’t, what mattered and what didn’t, what was cool and what was lame—to understand that Celine Dion did not make the best album of 1997, or Santana of 2000, or Norah Jones of 2003, or Ray Charles of 2005, or Herbie Hancock of 2008, or Mumford and Sons of 2013, or Beck of 2015. If you were an impressionable young person looking at this Wikiedpia page, you would almost certainly have enough sense to completely disregard what you’re reading and set out on your own path, to find… uh, different Wikipedia pages with more useful information, hopefully.
Kendrick Lamar and anyone who really wanted him to win last night can take solace in knowing that they’re part of this much richer history, of artists not recognized by a Recording Academy whose winners, when listed out on paper even with no other context, are plainly and obviously nonsense. And, honestly, if someone did stumble upon Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic because the Grammys named it Album of the Year, they would encounter a short and enjoyable album of very well-crafted pop music that gives the listener a quick crash course in some of the best pop music of the last three decades, in a way doing the thing the Grammys think they’re doing, or at least ought to be doing. Such a person might do some more digging and find New Edition or Boyz II Men. Or they might just enjoy Bruno Mars. Could be worse, really.