I never used to watch the Grammys until one year in college when we had an impromptu Grammy party in my dorm room. Not sure if it was the Grammys I enjoyed or the cheap wine coolers, but I’ve had a pleasant association to the Grammys ever since. Fast forward many years. I had many Grammy-free years until my kids became pre-teens and I was vaguely familiar enough with popular music for the Grammys to be fun again.
A few years ago, I posted a slightly snarky review of the Grammys and I hate to say that I think they’ve gotten worse. I had high hopes for this year, with Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and Barbra Streisand performing, but my hopes were misplaced. The Grammys are more about the performances and less about the awards, which seems you’d get the fun without the boring speeches. The problem is that the performances are more or less alike, with their huge production values overshadowing the musical value. The unusual pairings of artists don’t really work well, since it’s generally one artist doing a number followed by the other artist, with little overlap. At least with the awards, you have a rooting interest, so it’s more exciting.
There were some performances I liked. Despite the peacock get-up and the muppets, I liked Cee-Lo and Gwyneth Paltrow’s rendition of “the song otherwise known as Forget You.” I revere Bob Dylan, but his voice is not so hot on a good day, and this was definitely not a good day. Despite that, having Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers, both of whom gave excellent performances, back up Dylan on Maggie’s Farm more than made up for Dylan’s past-prime voice. Mick Jagger is pretty much still Mick Jagger, and Barbra Streisand has still got pipes, albeit more restrained than in the past.
I was disappointed at the thin field for the awards. Take Best Rock Album as an example. The nominees were Neil Young, Jeff Beck and Tom Petty – hello!! It’s 2011! I love them all, but really? There was Pearl Jam, yet again from an earlier generation although at least they were from the 90’s. Then there was Muse, the only “today” band, and of course they won. The numerous awards that Lady Antebellum won had me shaking my head, not that I don’t like them, but not like I love them either.
I went on the web site later to see all the winners and I felt somewhat reassured. I forgot that one of my reasons for watching the Grammys this year was to see whether Black Keys or Vampire Weekend would win anything but that award wasn’t even shown. (Black Keys won Best Alternative Album.) John Legend & The Roots won for best R&B song and album for Wake Up!, which is a great album. And Michael Buble, my secret guilty pleasure, won for something or other. There are too many categories to keep it all straight.
Perusing the Grammy website made me want to check out some albums, particularly in some of the more obscure categories. Examples include Bela Fleck’s album, Throw Down Your Heart (Fleck is an amazing banjo virtuoso), Genuine Negro Jig by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Imagine Project (features many artists including Herbie Hancock), and Jeff Beck’s Emotion and Commotion. What I won’t be checking out is Lady Antebellum or Lady Gaga.