R Scott Okamoto
"Relevance" is relative to our limited perspective, and I hate awards shows
Adele won a bunch of Grammy’s. Beyonce only won 2. Adele fans are happy. Beyonce fans are pissed. People are both praising Adele for her acceptance speech in which she said Beyonce should have won, and crucifying her for being a white artist who isn’t as cool as Beyonce. The Love Life of an Asian Guy actually labeled Adele and all white artists who win Grammy’s as “mediocre.”
"Mediocre” to many Beyonce fans means “not as cool” and “not as relevant.” Beyonce, they say, makes statements, and apparently statements make one worthy of awards. Putting aside her heteronormative, hyper-traditional and implied "slut-shaming", “Put a Ring on It,” or her cultural appropriation of South Asians in a Coldplay video, or her consistent worship of high fashion and wealth, she is seen as the political and social icon of this generation. We’ll circle back to my criticisms of Beyonce when I figure out where my bunker will be located.
I think award shows are self-congratulatory and completely against what I think art should be about. How can you possibly compare all the different kinds of musical art? You have artists who write and arrange their own songs, play the instruments on said songs, and perform the songs live night after night. It takes time and rehearsal to get a group of humans together, in sync, and musically bonded. Then there are the celebrity products of teams of executives and producers and writers and engineers who make pre-recorded music for the star to sing over. They then push play on any given night and let the star lip-sync and dance elaborate choreographed performances. There are “visuals” like videos and special effects. It’s an amazing visual and auditory spectacle that takes many hours of rehearsal and technological genius.
So, which one gets the award? Exactly what are the criteria for giving any of these accomplished artists one award for something so vague as an “album of the year?” Beyonce fans say “popularity” and “relevance.” Adele fans might say “authenticity” or “musical virtuosity.” Personally, I’ve listened to both albums and wasn’t completely blown away by either. I like some songs, but…I’ll stop now before both sets of fans come after me with pitchforks.
And of course there is a diversity problem, similar to what the Oscars experiences. Music awards may be more diverse, but who wins the most coveted awards? Mostly white artists. Look it up. It’s there. And some think having separate awards for "Urban Contemporary" is racist. I kind of agree. I may be pushing back against the notion that the non-Beyonce artists aren't "relevant," but of course systemic racism extends into the Grammy's.
There is a notion amongst my friends who are into mainstream “hip hop” and “R&B” that musical acts that just play music with instruments are old and boring. So, awarding a non-dancing, non-big-production artist is out of touch with music. Certainly the argument can be made. Today, I perused three articles saying the Grammy’s are either losing relevance or are already irrelevant. The reason? Beyonce and her big, bold social statements and elaborate videos didn’t win the big award. And 21 Pilots beat Rihanna.
Despite my ambivalence toward awards shows, that notion bothers me. To me, a great song, played beautifully in a great moment will always be relevant. You might not think it’s cool. It may not be your kind of music. It may not make the statement you want made. But it means something to others. “Relevance” is a troubling word. It makes me think of “relativism.” Beyonce may be relevant to you. She may not be relevant to someone else. I recognize her statements and what she means to so many people. That’s great for you. I’m not a fan of the music. I will not apologize for that. I totally respect Pussy Riot and everything they do to change Russian society. Their music is really terrible, even by punk standards. I will not finish this analogy for my own safety.
The problem, for me, is that entertainment tries too hard to be sports. So many people are obsessed with awards and statistics of sales and box office and salaries. If you're talking to me about box office totals or who you think should take over some big movie company, I apologize in advance for my glazed eyes rolling to the back of my head. It's me, not you. With sports, a person or team clearly emerges victorious. Most of the time. I'm sure the 1988 Oakland A's feel like they were robbed of a World Series by a completely unworthy Dodger team, but the Dodgers simply won. You can look at the box scores. They scored more runs in four of the seven game series. Winner. There is no scorecard for entertainment award shows. And, back to my earlier point, what would be the rubric if there were?
So, let’s not play musical deity and declare something “irrelevant” just because you like something different. Music is diverse. Duh. Why should Beyonce or Adele win something called, “Album of the Year?” Why not Justin Beiber? Why not Ziggy Marley? Why not any other artists you hear on top-40 radio? Until there are clear reasons one artist gets an award over so many other talented ones, I'm not buying. I'm still calling racism, but I'm not buying. Besides, in my mind, the Grammy's have NEVER been relevant. See what I did there?
Now, excuse me as I go back to listening to Fugazi in my basement. I'm kidding of course. I'm listening to Bieber.