There was good news and bad news at the 55th Grammy awards Sunday night. The good news is that, perhaps somewhat improbably, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences knows its rap and R&B. The bad news? The organization continues to award the least interesting and blandest sounds in rock and pop music.
Let’s deal with the positives first — because when the Grammys were right, they were so right. I don’t think it can be overstated that a member of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All won two Grammy awards. Frank Ocean emerged this year as the standard bearer of popular and interesting music, winning over fans with his own brand of self-confessional and pop-inflected R&B. While many thought he deserved more statues, and we’ll get to that, let’s just consider for a moment that an R&B singer who this summer openly documented his love for another man is one of the faces of “Urban Contemporary” music — whatever that means.
One of the people he beat out for this oddly named award was another exceptionally deserving winner Sunday night: Miguel. The single named singer took home Best R&B Song for his “Adorn,” which if you haven’t listened to, do it now. And, if only to display the deep power of the genre right now, Miguel lost Best R&B Performance for his song to Usher, showing that it’s not just a young man’s game. Usher came back last year with “Climax,” an emotionally trying and effective tune that was one of his best in years.
And then there was rap. Down the line, the rap awards went to the right people, with “Ni**as In Paris” picking up Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for Jay-Z and Kanye West. The duo earned another statue for “No Church In The Wild,” their song with Frank Ocean and The-Dream, in Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Drake took home Best Rap Album for Take Care, which feels like it came out several years ago at this point for the amount of songs it has managed to systematically shove into the public consciousness. If you look past #yolo, you’ll be reminded of one of the strongest and most sensitive rap efforts in recent memory.
Where the academy went wrong was the rock and pop categories. Two bands that got the most attention leading up to Grammys were Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, which are both really just shtick masquerading as original music. This should have been a night for Jack White (nominated in several big awards, winning none), not these ren-faire wannabes. Mumford took home a Grammy, but not nearly as many as the Black Keys, who dominated the night. While the boys from Akron used to produce great music, at the core of their current sound is an amalgamation of every interesting riff ever produced by a better rock band. “Lonely Boy” is just “Magic Carpet Ride” + T.Rex + hints of angst. Although, the video is kind of awesome.
Oh, and by the way, Gotye, which won record of the year for “Somebody That I Used to Know,” also won Best Alternative Music Album (over the much more deserving Fiona Apple or Tom Waits). Let’s all think and reflect for a second on why this might feel a little different than Arcade Fire winning Album of the Year or Bon Iver winning Best New Artist. I don’t think anyone made a tumblr asking who Gotye is.
The unfortunate reality though, is that the Grammys, especially this year, chose not only to honor boring pop, but did it at the expense of considerably more deserving and often groundbreaking music. Best New Artist was basically destined to go home with Frank Ocean, because, to be blunt, he put out what was definitely the best debut album of the year, and arguably the best overall. Instead, we got fun., which was a new artist in 2009 and is one of the lamer bands currently putting out music. Ocean was also up for Album of the Year, which was more of a stretch to imagine him winning, but definitely not enough to eliminate hope for it. Who won on Sunday? Mumford & Sons.
The biggest injustice of the night unfortunately fell upon one of my favorite songs of the year. Song of the Year is designed to recognize a song’s composers, sound or final product be damned. The fact that this did not go to “Call Me Maybe,” one of the most fine tuned and perfect bundles of pop goodness ever put together, is beyond me.