2012 Grammys: The Good, Bad & Horrifying

From Adele to Bon Iver to Nicki Minaj, here's what music's biggest night got right—and so wrong.

Last year, “music’s biggest night” was an attempt to pull the Grammy Awards out of the dark ages by, for once, giving the Album of the Year award to the most deserving nominee, Arcade Fire’s sprawling concept album The Suburbs. So the question this year was, would they continue to get things right?

Award shows, and the Grammys more specifically, should never be given too much credibility since they are often run by a group of people who have a conflict of interest (in this case, The Recording Academy, consisting of primarily music execs from record companies) and thus the awards can usually be used as more promotion than recognition of what was truly the best. One peek through the nominees and you can see this year’s Grammys by no means capture the "best music of 2012." This is partially due to music being more diversified than ever, and thus making it fairly difficult to decide on the best in an industry so wide and sprawling, no matter how many categories there are (79 this year, down from 108 last year). But mostly, it’s because the more out-of-touch voters view commercial success as the primary indicator of musical greatness.

As an evaluator, the best I can do is tell you, out of the respective nominees and the night as a whole, what the 2012 Grammys got just right—and what they got horrifyingly wrong.

Pre-Show Awards

Since it’s pretty difficult to stuff 79 winners into three and a half hours with all the pageantry and performances, most of the awards are given away before the televised portion. Of this portion, here are the highlights and lowlights.

Right: While over a year after its 2010 release, Kanye West’s grand album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, rightfully won Best Rap Album, though over a fairly weak field.The album’s centerpiece and best single, “All of the Lights,” won a crowded category of Rap/Sung Collaboration but still deservedly as well as Best Rap Song over the likes of Wiz Khalifa, Lil’ Wayne, Dr. Dre and his own collaboration with Jay-Z on “Otis.” Thus, the final Grammy tally is Kanye: three; Jay-Z and Kanye and the spectacle that was Watch the Throne: one (Best Rap Performance), though neither Ye or Jay felt the need to show.

Wrong: Chris Tomlin won his first Grammy after four previous nominations for his album If Our God Is for Us, winning Best Contemporary Christian Music Album, which meant Gungor’s stunning Ghosts Upon the Earth was overlooked for what, in some ways, felt like a tribute award. Adele also won her first of a million Grammys for Best Short Form Music Video for “Rolling in the Deep” over a chilling Memory Tapes video for “Yes I Know” and Thom Yorke shaking his groove thing on Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower.” Finally, the polarizingly obnoxious sounds of dubstep maestro Skrillex won two Grammys for Best Dance Album and Best Dance Recording over Robyn’s impeccable dance pop song “Call Your Girlfriend” and album Body Talk Pt. 3. 

Rock

Right: Alternative music—a name that insinuates the '90s more than anything—is somehow still a category, but at least they got this one right. Bon Iver won Best Alternative Music Album for their amazing self-titled sophomore album, which was great to see, especially since Justin Vernon has openly been opposed to the idea of the Grammys since being nominated. This wouldn’t be the last we would hear from Vernon on the night.

Wrong: Rock music was a mess this year, and the categories are even a bit dated. The rock category is filled with bands that made a name for themselves in the '90s, plus Coldplay and Jeff Beck (who always finds a way to get nominated for something). Foo Fighters pulled in four rock Grammys for a bit of a return-to-form album in Wasting Light, and Dave Grohl talked like they made rock music human again in his acceptance speech. Is this really the state of rock music, that in the year of 2012, the Foo Fighters are sweeping the rock Grammys and acting like they are reinventing the genre?

Performances

Right: Kudos to the Recording Academy for acting fast and putting together a tribute for Whitney Houston done by another big-voiced singer, Jennifer Hudson. The Grammys opened with live legend Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band, though minus legendary rock saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died this past year. And even though all the attention was on Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt ran through a  fine cover of “Sunday Kind of Love,” as a final tribute to soul and gospel legend Etta James

Mini-performances by The Civil Wars and Stevie Wonder were better than most if not all of the full performances. It was also a huge year for EDM (electronic dance music) and pop music clashing, and this was captured in performances by Chris Brown, Rihanna and a collaboration performance of David Guetta, Chris Brown, Lil’ Wayne, Deadmau5, the Foo Fighters and a bunch of really, really big glow sticks.

Wrong: If you opted for watching Walking Dead instead of the Grammys, you saw by no means the most horrifying bit of television on the night. Leave that up to Nicki Minaj, who put on a lowest-common-denominator performance full of religious shock value summoning The Exorcist. For a highly talented artist and rap character actor, her performance brought a very disturbing and very unnecessary moment to an otherwise fairly tame night.

Other lowlights include Bruno Mars, anytime Chris Brown takes the stage twice and, sad to say, the Beach Boys collaboration. I love the Beach Boys as much as anyone, but their supposed reunion and collaboration with Maroon 5 and Foster the People was just downright awkward and lousy.

The Big Four

Right: The four most envied and contested categories with the Grammys are Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Of these, the super-talented and super-British Adele swept the three Grammy categories she was nominated for (Song, Record and Album of the Year) plus she was six for six for awards on the night. She was no doubt the biggest winner of the night. And, much to the chagrin of the Twittersphere, the Best New Artist was awarded to Bon Iver, clearly the best candidate, who delivered the most genuine speech of the night.

Wrong: So they got all four of these awards right—but what about the Best New Artist category in general? It was Bon Iver’s second album (his first, the amazing For Emma, Forever Ago, in 2008) and it strikes me as just plain silly for someone to win a new artist award just because they became commercially successful in a given year. You can tell Justin Vernon felt the same, and voiced how unimportant the award was, calling it just a “sweet hookup.” Vernon instead used the space to recognize all the bands that would never see this stage, but have inspired him invaluably nonetheless.

Presentation

Right: While LL Cool J hosting the Grammys evoked a “Really?” reaction out of me, it was surprisingly poignant when he opened the show with a prayer and some kind words in regards to Whitney Houston’s passing. Also, Super Bowl champion receiver Victor Cruz doing the salsa never hurt anybody either ...

Wrong: The simple fact that Lady Gaga was shown on screen was a crime, as it literally looked like she was choking under fishnets. I know being a pop star often means you are a fashion innovator, but being artistic and a nut job doesn’t have to be totally synonymous. Also, when some of your presenters are Reba McEntire, Marc Anthony and that goth chick from NCIS, your show is pretty out of touch.

Finally, I understand newer music doesn’t have the recognition of older established acts, but how dated are the Grammy awards and its performers? This is at least partially due to the Grammys airing on CBS—the major network with the oldest demographic—paired with music, the art form with notably the youngest. This will never make sense, and is part of the reason the Grammys will always feel irrelevant. The awards atrocities date back to 1967—arguably the biggest and most important year in rock history—when the Beach Boys got hosed alongside the Beatles and other great '60s rockgroups for Best Rock song by a very square novelty song called“Winchester Cathedral." While it is great they are recognizing these classic artists now, the supposedly premier Recording Academy is consistently late to the party on acts.

The show did close on a fine palette cleanser to wash off the filth of Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj by having Springsteen and Grohl join in with McCartney, who's aged quite nobly, for a good old-fashioned rock medley of Abbey Road tunes. But even with a strong finish, and getting the major four awards correct, the Grammys will probably never be quality TV. As long as people like Nicki Minaj levitate and Lady Gaga dresses with some random inanimate object, they'll just be entertaining to talk about—which is perhaps all the Grammys were going for in the first place.

Wes Jakacki writes on music and faith from the heartland, aka Fort Wayne, IN, and you can follow him on Twitter or at his music blog, Little by Listen. 

89 Comments

84,032

JB commented…

So what is the age limit to being able to record an album in one's garage in your opinion?

84,032

Rawhide commented…

Kurt was an intelligent but tortured young man. If you watch "About A Son," you can hear the pain. Have to agree with Jeff, he was all over the place not happy with a lot. But still pretty much not what his caricature of himself as it is now.

84,032

Rawhide commented…

I personally can't watch much of a show like the Grammies. There's no water cooler where I work, so no one to talk to and get worked up over with the wins and the snubs of the previous evening. Every now and then, I get a nugget of something I like from a write up. Thanks for the write up!
Dug
http://tr4f.wordpress.com

84,032

Ruth Rutherford commented…

My six-word GRAMMYs review:
Best: Civil Wars. Worst: Nicki Minaj.

monkey@zoo

1

monkey@zoo commented…

I love music, and as such I have learned to appreciate all types of music. I've also watched the Grammies for a long while---used to get really excited to watch performers, but now it's really sad. Most of the interesting truly gifted artist you never get to see at the live broadcast.....check out the internet to see other performers who are just amazing. I'm talking about Esperanza Spalding and Bobby McFerrin performing together, gospel performers like Le'Andria Johnson, Trin-i-tee 5:7, Kelly Price, & Kim Burrell at the pre-show. Stuff that most people never get to experience, and these people are at the top of their game. For a very long time the Grammies have been leaning towards those people who pay bills, the immediate, not those artists that have really truly expanded the art form. This article points to those things, and if you haven't looked at the past and just concentrate on the now he does have a point. I've always made a point of checking out every nominee for every category......more some than others, but it gives a music listener a broad spectrum of music. Do that next time before the Grammies come up. I was happy that Civil Wars got 2 this year........not even thought they would get a thing.

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