The Grammy Nominations

How did the Grammys become the Oscars?

You know, an organization that is so inside it honors “art” that most people have never consumed.

Yes, the Oscars are famous for this. The big movies never get nominated, or they are as part of an expanded list to pay homage to the hoi polloi but never win. The insider favorites win. And even worse, those films that do win don’t get the big commercial bump they once did. The average person just ignores the entire enterprise. Ratings keep going down to a small fraction of the public and everybody knows the real action is on streaming television.

The music business has stopped minting broad-based stars, ones that appeal to everybody, or at least everybody has heard, never mind heard-of. Look at the list. If you recognize the names, you still may not have heard the music, nor do you care to. You’ve sampled the offerings again and again and found yourself unsatisfied, you’ve detached.

Not from music so much as new music proffered by the usual suspects. Yes, for all the hoopla about TikTok and the internet minting new stars, it’s the major labels that dominate the major categories. As for the minor categories? It’s like giving a participation trophy in youth soccer. It might matter to the recipient, but they’re the only one.

The platforms have become bigger than the music.

Yes, people are fans of Spotify more than they are of these supposed musical juggernauts who are not. You fire up the service and listen, but do you listen to what has been nominated by the Grammys?

The music business used to mint international stars, acts who not only everybody knew, but acts whose tracks were part of the firmament, cultural touchstones. Now these supposedly big records are the size of Stonehenge in “Spinal Tap.” Minute.

Part of this is the change in the landscape post internet. Everything is niche.

But there are streaming TV shows that reach more people than records. And streaming TV shows have all the buzz, and they transcend age ghettoization. Everybody was interested in “Squid Game,” it was a national phenomenon. Ditto “Ted Lasso.” You heard so much about them that you had to check them out. Needing to check out a new track? Why? You don’t feel the buzz, it never reaches you, and if you dig in you are disappointed.

Let’s look at the nominations for Record of the Year.

The new Abba album was big in the U.K., but it was meaningless in the U.S. How meaningless? The nominated “Don’t Shut Me Down” has 58,238,622 streams on Spotify. That’s bupkes, there are many acts you’ve never heard of that have that number.

Adele’s “Easy on Me” has in excess of a billion streams, but let’s be honest, Adele hasn’t done anything truly noteworthy since 2015’s “25.” She’s been running on fumes, past accomplishments, her new tracks have not been memorable. But she’s a bona fide star because…we don’t have any more bona fide stars to hype.

“Break My Soul,” from Beyonce’s vaunted comeback album? 234,921,732 streams. Beyonce’s album was a stiff. I’ll say it, even if the press won’t. Check the streaming numbers. There are three cuts in triple digit millions on Spotify, the rest are all in double digits. One only has 26,774,717.

Mary J. Blige’s “Good Morning Gorgeous”? 13,242,565. That’s piss-poor. It’s almost like it never came out.

“You and Me on the Rock,” by Brandi Carlile featuring Lucius? It doesn’t even break a MILLION! 949,271. How many people have even heard it? And don’t tell me about quality, the Grammy organization is covering all bases here, nominating the pre-approved Carlile shows that it cares. About what?

“Woman” by Doja Cat is a bona fide hit. It has 1,086,180,293 streams on Spotify. But it’s a genre piece, it went unheard by most of the population, a tempest in a teapot I tell you, that’s what the modern record business has devolved to.

As much impact as Steve Lacy has had recently, you can feel the buzz, “Bad Habit” only has 394,065,181 streams.

Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart Part 5”? 49,660,586 streams. This is not a hit, Lamar is being nominated for past work, like others in this category.

Lizzo is a star, she cuts across categories and demos. The only problem is she’s never released a track as great as her image. “About Damn Time” only has 481,330,487 streams.

But the true star in this category, which is utterly ridiculous, with ten nominations so as to theoretically appeal to everybody, with cuts that have no chance to win, is Harry Styles, with “As It Was,” which has 1,543,881,676 streams. I’m not saying everybody has heard this track, but everybody has heard of Harry Styles, and he makes more universal, more mass-appeal, better cuts than Lizzo. Styles is the closest we’ve got to an old school pre-internet star on this list. His music stands alone, it doesn’t follow trends, he has an identity, the record business used to be able to do this on a regular basis, but now it seems to have lost the formula.

I’m not going to go through every track in every category, but there’s a very good chance you haven’t heard them. The belief is that the young ‘uns know them all, but that’s untrue too! Young ‘uns live in the same world we do, overwhelmed with input, TikTok is a bigger star than any of these nominated records, just like Spotify.

And the backward Grammy organization can never be hip. If anything, it’s like your grandpa, donning the cloak of the hip years too late. Yes, you might see a reference to TikTok on the show, but those in the know know that the nominations should have been on TikTok, think of the buzz! Not only amongst the TikTok users, but amongst the somnambulant press which also lives in the past. But no! Just like most of the music nominated, the Grammys can’t push the envelope, they’re rooted in the past, tradition, and that’s what makes them ever more irrelevant. As for the show, it’s been redone by a new producer to feature good musical performances, but one can always catch those on demand online after the fact, assuming you’re interested at all.

This is a crisis. There’s no excitement around music. And the biggest excitement on TikTok is about old tracks, whether decades old or just a few years.

You want to talk about a hit, one that has impact? Then look at Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves.” It was released over two years ago, it took 59 weeks to make it to number one, it spent 91 weeks in the Hot 100, longer than “Blinding Lights.” And it’s got 2,107,516,435 streams on Spotify. Now that’s a hit. And what drove it? Social media, it took that long for the audience to embrace it, it was a phenomenon on TikTok. It has never received a Grammy nomination, but if the act was featured on the telecast kids would care, more than about almost anything above other than Harry Styles. That’s the modern world, these Grammy nominations are the past.

And yes, I’m touting TikTok again and again, because that’s where people live today, and it cuts across all demos, just like gaming. And who knows if TikTok is forever, but it’s the big kahuna right now. Why can’t the Grammys acknowledge it? Why can’t the Grammys acknowledge the user-generated content that built up these numbers?

That’s the world we live in.

Not in the calcified circle jerk of self-satisfied old men believing they lord it over the music world when in truth they lord it over themselves and not many more. Most people just don’t care. And the Grammys, no, the record industry, have not given them a reason to.

The major labels don’t innovate, test the limits musically, they just sign and promote in distinct, already proven genres. It wasn’t like this when music previously triumphed, whether it be in the classic rock or the MTV eras. Being different was a badge of honor, that’s why we were interested. Me-too is not worth a second look, or a second listen.

I could give the Grammy organization some marketing tips, but why bother, they never embrace them, they know better, and to be honest I think it would be good if the Grammys put themselves out of business. Give Mark Zuckerberg credit, at least he knows his old domain is dying, i.e. Facebook and Instagram, and therefore he is trying to innovate. Zuckerberg has a shallow history of innovation, he usually purchases his way to success, and it looks like his virtual reality metaverse was either too soon or ill-conceived or both. Zuck is frightened, his company has taken a huge hit to its stock, even though Meta’s social networks are cash cows. Is anybody at the Grammys frightened? The major labels keep congratulating themselves but if they were in tech young entrepreneurs would be busy disrupting them. As it is, all the innovation in music comes from outside.

In truth, I found the Grammy nominations funny, I don’t really care. But most people are not only not watching the show, they don’t even encounter the meaningless nominations. Come on, how do you reach the young, active music listener? They don’t read traditional media, they may not even have a cable subscription. It takes thought, innovation to reach them, but the brain dead Grammy organization thinks it knows better. But it does not. It’s laughable.

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