The iHeart Music Awards

I didn’t see anybody I knew.

Well, that’s not completely true. John Sykes was there. And Taylor Swift. But these awards shows are usually industry clusterf*cks. The hang supersedes the show. Everybody is in the lobby, schmoozing.

But that’s not what was happening last night.

You see it’s no longer one unified music business anymore. We’re not all in it together. It’s an endless series of niches. And terrestrial radio is one of them.

Now the event was held in the Dolby Theatre, where they have the Oscars. That adds gravitas. As good as the food may now be, most music venues are barns. Load ’em in, load ’em out, hose the place down, get ready for tomorrow night. But at the Dolby…you’re on your best behavior.

Now I’ll admit I was very close. But I don’t think that made a difference, just being in the building was enough. When the music began, I felt a shot of ADRENALINE! A feeling that you just can’t get anywhere else. Of excitement, of anticipation, of wonderment, disbelief that you’re actually there, when the music began. That was the most important and inspiring lesson I learned last night. This is why we’re selling all those tickets. In a world of zeros and ones, where a computer can write your term paper, everybody hungers for something real, something that’s alive and breathing, something that evidences humanity, something that takes you away from everyday life, makes you happy, makes your life worth living.

And that’s live music.

Now the great thing about the iHeart Music Awards show is acts have to show up. Otherwise… iHeart doesn’t say it won’t play their records, but… Not that this is about iHeart, all radio outlets are like this. We make you stars, you owe us. We’re friendly, but don’t disrespect us.

So there weren’t the endless instances of someone else accepting the award for those not in attendance.

And the show began with Pink… I was bracing myself for her high wire act, which is intriguing, but has nothing to do with music, however that was not Pink’s role, although she did have gymnasts flying on trampolines and I must say it was astounding to watch. But as close as I was I could see that Pink was into it, that she was not going through the motions, and when she spoke later she was genuine, and not in a pandering way.

But this is the point where I must say most acts were singing to track. It’s not like there was even a band on stage. As for Keith Urban… I’ve seen him live, he’s one of the best, with his three guitars and a bass format. He can wail, but it was all fake last night.

But Neil Giraldo and Pat Benatar seemed real.

But the point is…

It’s not your father’s music business anymore. And we’re the fathers, if not the grandfathers! As great as Giraldo and Benatar are, they appeared quaint compared to the rest of the acts. They were a blast from the past. Today image is key. And dancing. The trappings. Once again, it’s not the seventies anymore. Not even the eighties!

That’s what you have to realize. Today’s youngsters are unaware of the past, they didn’t live though it. Rappers are dangerous, not Jimmy Page. MTV turned music into a monoculture. And visuals were key. And in pop music, that still rules.

In the rest of the world/genres…

Just when it looked like it was going to be pop only, Cody Johnson and a few other newbies nearly blew the roof off the place, you felt the desire of those starting out, that need to make it.

And making it is not what it used to be. Used to be you were one of the richest, and maybe even most powerful, people in America.

No one thinks you can make that kind of money in music anymore, not those on either side of the stage. The rich are techies and bankers. As for those plying the boards… This is show business, this is entertainment, this is a job. You could see it, you could feel it. This was another gig, hopefully one that would pay dividends. And then the acts and their handlers would move on to another burg, to perform for people there.

Everything is micro. No one is dominant. The media tries to tell us they are, but unless you’re addicted to mainstream media, you don’t know this.

Like Coldplay. They got some award and they showed video of their stadium tour. I’ve seen the band, I’m a fan of the early records, I could take or leave them, Chris Martin has no edge. But if you saw the assembled multitude, with their phones in the air in the stadium…I can feel it right now, writing about it, you wanted to be there, you needed to be there, to experience that feeling you can’t get anywhere else. The act is coming to your town! It’s a special experience.

As for some of the acts… Have you even heard of Latto? She put on a sexualized performance that veered on being censor-worthy. The way she moved, the way she gyrated her body.

And then there was Becky G, winning for Latin Song. She didn’t perform, they showed a video of her history, what it took to make it, and I’d heard of her, and I learned a bit, but I felt she lived in a different world from me.

Now the country acts… I understand. They play guitars, it’s akin to rock. However, I’m still pissed at the three guys wearing cowboy hats a few rows down. I mean how inconsiderate can you be? But that’s the world we live in, no one cares about anybody else, it’s just about them. And if you confront them, they say life is hard and they’re just trying to get ahead.


And Doja Cat was there, one of the biggest acts of the pandemic. She got a ton of applause. But it hit me, this is her time. It will run out. That’s how it is with all these acts. There’s a moment in time when they’re hot, people are talking about them, and then they’re touring acts, maybe on television. They’re born to die, as Grand Funk Railroad and Lana Del Rey would say. The machine needs fresh and new as grist for the mill. It’s nearly impossible to stay on top, especially without doing a duet with a star du jour.

It’s a business.

Now the amazing thing is you may not have even realized the show was on, which it was, broadcast live on Fox.

Used to be you were aware of everything. Had a judgment on everything. But today network TV is like terrestrial radio. Still powerful, but less powerful than it used to be. Terrestrial radio used to be everything. But now streaming music, like streaming television, sits alongside. And both Spotify and iHeart are deep into podcasting. Because ultimately they’re both tech companies, either innovate or die.

Just like the artists.

You’ve to go create the record, do your best to make it a hit, go on the road to hoover up money, and then do it all over again, and eventually you burn out, because you’ve got no life, but if you take a break, will the audience still be interested in you when you return?

And it is a job. They had a ton of footage of performers talking to deejays. This is part of the gig, this is what you sign up for. You try to reach everybody you can. Which is why you do TV shows like the iHeart Music Awards to begin with.

I loved seeing Cole Swindell win, I’m a fan, like I said above, I can relate to country.

Then again, Muni Long performed and I got it. Because when done right the music hits you somewhere between the gut and the heart, the feeling oozes through your body, it’s not something you can boil down to zeros and ones but you know it when you feel it.

And another surprise was Giovannie and the Hired Guns, who seemed to be playing live, it wasn’t easy to tell, with the camera in the way, but the sound and energy… Listen to “Ramon Ayala,” it’s got seventeen million streams on Spotify and I’ve never heard of it. But everybody pooh-poohing the mainstream nature of an event like this will be confounded, they’ll be scratching their head, not only is it good, it’s fresh.

I mean really, listen:



But the absolute highlight was LL Cool J, performing an original number delineating the history of hip-hop. Whew! It was riveting. You could feel the power. You could see why hip-hop dethroned rock and roll.

So what have we learned?

That the world is returning to normal. I had to get a Covid test to attend, but this kind of event used to be de rigueur. A floating party. One of the underpinnings of this business we call show.

And like I said, it’s not the business it used to be.

At the end of the day, iHeart has stations in every genre, so it’s not like you can criticize the company. Hell, they held the AlterEgo festival at the Forum, with the Peppers, Jack White, Muse, Phoenix… It doesn’t get much more credible than that.

And acts play stadium dates and you’re unaware they happened.

That’s the modern music world. It’s a very big tent. The demand, the desire for music, is huge, phenomenal, there’s room for all genres, but within each vertical it is competitive. But the audience is hungry for more.

Will we ever go back to a monoculture, where we all know the same hits? Maybe if a new Beatles comes along, but we’ve been waiting over half a century for that, and no one has ever arrived. Or a new Bob Dylan. Or even a new Bruce Springsteen.

That was the past. The only way we’re going to make music the leading driver of culture, recapturing its crown from streaming television, is by going forward. Giovannie and the Hired Guns gave me hope. You never know what is coming down the pike, what will surprise you, but we’re all waiting for it, and if you can deliver it…

The world is yours.

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