At a certain point last night, hours deep into the long dark night of the Grammys, I felt my face start to hurt.
I realised it was the involuntary grimace that I'd been holding ever since Ed Sheeran bleated his creepy, girl-prostitute saviour-complex hit A Team ("Her face seems.../Crumbling like pastries"). I'd held that grimace through The Lumineers, doing their godawful Brooklyn barn-dance shtick, and Fun's grating Queen-aping, but it was country-pop moppet Hunter Hayes who had me thinking: there is so much bad music in the world. Which is true. And it's always true. But it's also always true that there is great music, too.
Watching last night's interminable ceremony, though, the music industry looked not just lifeless, but pathetically, hopelessly out of step. LL Cool J as host didn't really help things: here was a man who gave every impression of having just been told what "hashtag" meant. "Hashtag Carrie Underwood! Hashtag Rihanna!" he shouted proudly, assuring us: "I'm reading all of your tweets." (I didn't believe him.)
And then there was the performance in which Carrie Underwood's dress was more interesting – and animated – than she was. Throughout the night, we also experienced the weirdness of Justin Timberlake's apotheosis: this serviceable, very likeable pop star being treated like a messiah. His last album was seven years ago. Has nothing filled the void?
Of course it has, but the Grammys is not the place to reflect that. It's an awards ceremony that's always suffered from its eligibility windows, meaning that records that you dimly remember being released ages ago are celebrated now. More problematic, though, is the sense that the people doing the voting are your grandparents, based on a name they heard the checkout girl mention in the drugstore a couple of years ago. How else to explain the presence of Maroon Five? Maroon Five! (Nominated for best vocal pop album).
Before the awards were even handed out, Twitter went to town with the leaked wardrobe memo from CBS and its hilariously headmistressy dictums. "Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered," it sniffed. Its most bizarre request though, was that: "the genital region is adequately covered so that there is no visible 'puffy' bare skin exposure." (Don't get me started on all those pop stars and their famously puffy genital regions!) All good and risible, but the Grammys memo we should really be talking about is the one tweeted by producer and music historian Andy Zax last month. "This insert came with my Grammy ballot," he wrote. "It tells you everything you need to know about why the awards are fucked up." And he posted a photograph of a piece of paper on which was printed this helpful reminder: "LISTEN to nominated recordings."
It made me think of Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig at the Golden Globes last month, pretending to flail through the nominations as if they'd failed to watch the films. ("Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen … when the salmon … are … coming out … and the bad guy comes … ")
But actually not listening to the nominated albums just isn't funny at all. Are the Grammys voted for a by a bunch of people who don't really listen to music? It certainly seems that way. Witness not just the inclusion of the easy-to-deride Mumford & Sons in the album of the year category, but their triumph in that category over Frank Ocean, whose Channel Orange was, by near-consensus, last year's most beautiful and groundbreaking album.
But we should heed small mercies. Chris Brown, who exceeded his own high standards of ultra-douchebaggery by failing to stand for Frank Ocean after he lost out to him in the absurdly titled urban contemporary album category (R & B to you and me), didn't, thank god, win anything. It's four years exactly since he punched and bit Rihanna on the face, arms, hands and legs until she was bleeding and screaming. Perhaps Grammy voters have finally caught up on something.
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