The Grammys (and What's In My CD Case)

The Grammy Awards will be presented tonight.  Ordinarily I do not care about this.   My brother Tom, an actor/singer on the Chicago theater scene (and far more gifted than me), thinks that all competitive artistic awards are a waste of time, because it is impossible to compare works of art against each other.  I agree with the latter point, especially when it comes to music, which is fragmented into so many distinct genres--how are you supposed to compare a good album by Kendrick Lamar against a good album by Taylor Swift?   Apples and oranges.   

Nevertheless, I think that some award shows (like the Tonys and the Oscars) are useful in helping to guide audiences towards worthwhile but less commercial work that they might not otherwise have seen.  In recent years, for instance, I doubt that I would have seen Minari or Triangle of Sadness had they not been nominated for Best Picture.  

Unfortunately, the Grammys rarely serve the function of helping introduce audiences to good work, because they are usually very conservative and market-driven in choosing nominees and winners for the main categories (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year).   In a typical year, all of the nominees are already well-known and have sold a lot of records.  They don't need the exposure of the Grammys.   Moreover, Grammy nominations inevitably gravitate towards the most popular genres (pop, hip hop) that don't appeal to me in the first place.  I wouldn't be interested in the Oscars either if the nominees were mostly superhero, action and horror movies.  

I don't have a theory for why the Grammys are generally so useless, although I suspect the answer would be similar to the related question of why music criticism is less successful as a gatekeeper relative to (say) movie criticism.  For any new movie that comes out with any studio backing, you can quickly read a review in the local paper and you can learn a broader set of opinions from IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, and in general the critics do a good job identifying and promoting good work by lesser-known, underbudgeted artists.   Wouldn't it be great if there was an Internet Music Database that served the same function?

Anyway, the reason I'm writing this is that this year, I actually have a rooting interest in the Grammys:  The Record by Boygenius, the indie-folk-rock “supergroup” made up of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, is up for seven Grammys, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year (the latter for the standout track “Not Strong Enough”).  It's a terrific record, definitely worthy of recognition, and maybe, just maybe, it will get some young people to get off the dance floor for a change and actually listen to some of the great indie rock music that young bands are making these days.  It's fitting that Boygenius has the chance to be the tip of the spear for getting younger audiences back into rock music, because most of the good bands that have come out in recent years are women-led (and many of them are also queer).   

Speaking of which, here are some of the records that have graced by CD Case in the last few months.  Few if any of these artists have ever won a Grammy.  

Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel

Boygenius, The Record

Cate Le Bon, Reward

Game Theory, Real Nighttime

Little Feat, Sailin' Shoes

Mitski, Laurel Hell

Queens of the Stone Age, R

Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation

Sufjan Stevens, Javelin (my vote for Album of the Year for 2023)



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