The Rolling Stones Picked Up Their Third Grammy Ever Last Night
If you’re a music fan, chances are you’re miffed about something that happened at the Grammys last night, whether it’s that Bruno Mars won Album of the Year over Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z or that Lorde was conspicuously absent from the slate of live performances. Chances are you were miffed last year, too, when Beyoncé lost, or a couple years before that, when voters decided that Macklemore of all people had made the best rap album. Year after year, the Grammys proves to us that getting mad at the Grammys is a waste of our energy, and year after year, we do it anyway. We can console ourselves, at least, with the knowledge that the awards are essentially irrelevant when it comes to what artists and records are canonized in the long term, and they always have been: with all due respect to Lionel Ritchie, no one remembers Can’t Slow Down as the landmark album of 1985, despite its status as that year’s big winner; we remember Purple Rain and Born in the U.S.A. The best stuff tends to endure, no matter what the Recording Academy decides at the time.
Aside from the obvious snubs, the 60th Annual Grammy Awards provided us with another useful example to illustrate the essential wrongness of the Grammys’ vision, this one as much about what gets into the club as what’s omitted. Last night, The Rolling Stones received their third Grammy ever, not counting the Lifetime Achievement Award they pulled down in 1986. One of these three was for a music video in the ’90s, which really has at least as much to do with the talents of director David Fincher as it does with the band itself.
This is absurd for two reasons. First, because the Stones could uncontroversially be described as the greatest rock band in history, and this is only the second award they’ve received that’s purely about the music they released in a given year. As four white guys with an undeniable legacy, an obvious mastery of their craft, an emotional connection to the baby boomers who are somehow still in charge of these decisions, and an artistic appetite that runs the gamut of respectable old-fashioned American music genres, from country to R&B, they are precisely the sort of artists that Grammy voters love. Those old coots should be practically drowning in Grammys, fighting to stay afloat in a rising tide of little gold-plated gramophones. If the Academy can’t figure out that the fucking Rolling Stones are worthy of their graces, why would anyone expect them to understand Kendrick Lamar?
The second absurdity has to do with the Stones music that voters have deigned to honor. Last night’s winner was Blue & Lonesome, which won the Best Traditional Blues Album category. Blue & Lonesome is a compilation of gussied-up cover tunes by bluesmen like Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon, which Mick and the gang got together in the studio and banged out over three days. It is the liveliest new Rolling Stones studio album to be released in over a decade, but that’s mostly because it is the only new Rolling Stones studio album to be released in over a decade, and the one before that is most memorable for containing an unbearably heavy-handed George W. Bush-era protest jam, with lyrics that literally reference Halliburton by name. Blue & Lonesome is fun but forgettable, like the lark it is. If you’re going to tackle the classic songbook that they attempt here, you need to really blow the doors off of it, and the band sounds like it simply can’t muster the energy. It’s not really their fault: They’ve been doing this for over half a century! But if the Grammys wanted to honor them, maybe they should have done it while they were in their prime.
But wait—surely the other Stones Grammy went to a more deserving work? Exile on Main Street, perhaps the best rock album ever recorded? Some Girls, which cemented their status as the kind of act whose popular relevance would last multiple decades? Even Tattoo You, their last truly great album, released when the Stones were entering middle age in 1981, finally old enough for the Academy might respect them, if only for sticking around for so long? No, it was a Best Rock Album nod for 1995’s overlong and consummately mediocre Voodoo Lounge. If ever you need a reminder that the Grammys’ version of the canon is utterly meaningless, try throwing on either of these records and pretending you’re hearing the best music the Rolling Stones ever recorded.