"Music's biggest night" has credibility issues, and it often seems like your parents talking about your music, but there are reasons to watch.
The Grammys telecast takes place and Sunday night, and yesterday Jon Caramanica wrote at the NYTimes.com about how NARAS--the body that puts on the Grammys--could fix some of its hip-hop and R&B problems. Much of what he writes could apply to every genre since almost every category and genre includes nominees that strike you as random, as if the music industry doesn't know the music. The range and priorities of voters has a lot to do with those quirks, but they also undermine any shred of authority that the Grammys cling to. Many music fans skip the Grammys because the institution lacks credibility, but I'll still watch because
… everybody else will be watching too. Since television fragmented into a half-million channels, it’s rare that a critical mass of us are watching the same thing at the same time, and it’s rarer that the thing we’re watching is music. It’s rare that we’re all talking about the same band because our musical worlds are as soloed as our social media ones. The only times that the country is all talking about the same musician is after one dies, plays the Super Bowl, plays the Grammys. On the Monday morning after the Grammys last year, Kendrick Lamar’s intense, political, adventurous set rolled up social media, and I want to be a part of whatever conversation happens. And, if something that good happens, I want to see it.
… we’re going to see something provocative. Considering how the Trump presidency has gone so far, how could we not? How could Adele, Kelsea Ballerini, William Bell, Chance the Rapper, Gary Clark Jr., Daft Punk, Andra Day, Cynthia Erivo, Tori Kelly, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, John Legend Little Big Town, Demi Lovato, Lukas Graham, Bruno Mars, Metallica, Maren Morris, Anderson .Paak, Katy Perry, Sturgill Simpson, A Tribe Called Quest, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, and The Weeknd, host James Corden, and all the presenters pass up the chance to say or do something political?
… we’re going to see tributes to Prince and George Michael. It’s hard to imagine the Grammys will top the Prince tributes at the BET Awards last year, but it won’t be for a lack of fire power. And they won’t be a cappella, unlike last year’s tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White by Stevie Wonder and Pentatonix, which I assume was someone’s awkward solution of how to honor him in an already full show.
… because we’ll see a bonkers production number and strings. Lots and lots of strings. If history has any predictive power, the Grammys try to create special moments by rejiggering popular songs to add cellos to songs that never needed them. The performances add 50 ponderous pounds to the songs, but I have to see which ones will get bogged down with that treatment. Along the way, someone's art will be perfectly framed.
… because the Grammys reveal how out of touch NARAS is. You know it’s out of touch, but sometimes you have to see it appreciate just how out of touch it is. When it wanted to prove that rock isn’t dead, it did exactly the opposite by saddling up Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp and a Guns ’N Rose or two to play a song that might have sounded hot on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1977.
… because the Grammys reveal how old NARAS is. Their efforts to understand electronic music meant nominating Jean-Michel Jarre, who started making electronic music in the ‘70s. Electronica 1: The Time Machine is fine but not relevant; then again, in the electronic world, neither is the category.
… because sometimes, you just have to know. Who will be Best New Artist? Country artists haven’t usually done well at the Grammys, but there’s Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini anyway. Will voters support the pop success of The Chainsmokers even though they’re dicks, or Chance the Rapper, who chose to forego the label system entirely? Or will it be Anderson .Paak, who rocked the summer festival circuit and demonstrated every day that he can actually play?
… because we get insight into the music business. We see the preferences of the members in the technical areas for sonic clarity, and in the classical and jazz fields for musical ability, and those in the hit-making business for hits and pop craft. And, in areas people don’t know, their belief in the name they recognize. I hope Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars win the Best American Roots Album for Gulfstream, but I’d bet on the better known Jack White or Vince Gill. I’d also bet on Joshua Caffery and Joel Savoy picking up a Grammy for I Wanna Sing Right: Rediscovering Lomax In The Evangeline Country in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category, as much for the Lomax name as the music itself.
If I have time Sunday afternoon, I’ll also watch the “pre-tel”—pre-telecast—online. That’s where most of the awards are actually given out, and that’s where people who will only win one Grammy in their career get it and are really happy about it. Or really cool about it. The pre-tel also features live performances, but they’re less outrageous and there are fewer off them. Trombone Shorty has performed during the pre-tel, where you also see hosts on the brink of being somebody. It’s the Grammys’ NXT, wrestling fans.
For those who are interested, Billboard.com also has a good history of the Grammys' complicated relationship with hip-hop.