By David Nowacki
When Barbra Streisand stutteringly and with contorted effort announced Arcade Fire to be the recipients of the Album of the Year award at the Grammys, her seeming ignorance of who the evening’s winners were, let alone how to pronounce their name, seemed demurely aged but reasonable for a near-septuagenarian who seemingly spends most of her time waxing nostalgic and eyebrows rather than paying attention to what the kids are listening to.
Her reaction, however, was facsimiled across the faces of the general viewership, who inevitably took to that bastion of unrequited fury that is the Internet. Social networks, most visibly Twitter, were instantly peppered with CAPS LOCK’d and profanity-laden tirades of unimaginable fury directed at the quiet Canucks who had obviously stolen a coveted Grammy from right under a formidable group of Billboard-dominating heavyweights comprised of Eminem, Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum (who had already won five of the six awards they had been nominated for that night), and Katy Perry. There was such an outpouring of abject and violent rage that an amused looker-on was quick to open a Tumblr account as a forum for the previously uncollected outbursts, which read like an irate fifth-grader’s account of how his best buddy was horribly jilted at the most recent school talent show.
It coerced a brief chuckle out of me at the range of near-unintelligible rants from random nobodies from the omnipresent Internet decrying loudly (ALL CAPS) the ascension of the random nobodies from Canada to music’s greatest pantheon (scoff), to the barely-intelligible quips of celebrity nobodies such as Tawny Kitaen (she was in a Poison video once), Rosie O’Donnell (famed gape-mouthed nose-talker, “comedian”) and Dog the Bounty Hunter, whose Grammy-related opinions I, and I’m sure most others, was achingly, quakingly anticipating. Most of them harangued the album’s lack of sales or ubiquity as the main reason for Arcade Fire not deserving it, or they simply didn’t know who the band was and felt cheated by their industry-faulted ignorance.
So what does this reflect on the behalf of the Grammy committee? A fair few of these posts claimed the committee is out of touch or simply ignorant of the modern music scene. Let us take a trip down this road, and examine the cultural and musical significance of the nominees this year:
1- Recovery, by Eminem – The controversial rapper’s fifth studio album and second nomination for an album of the year was also one of his most critically panned, albeit one of the most loved by his fan base (according to Metacritic.com). What it really was was a substandard rap album that, while commercially successful, was the “comeback” of a tired routine that hasn’t been relevant or interesting to the public as a whole in close to a decade.
2- Need You Now, by Lady Antebellum – To be honest, I don’t really know much about this record save that Lady Antebellum, from my recollection of being forced to listen to their albums every day when I worked at an unnamed record chain, is that they are a modern pop-country band. They sing pop songs with twangy guitar in the background. Popular, probably. Important, unlikely.
3- The Fame Monster, by Lady Gaga – While incredibly commercially successful, this album was simply a repackage of her debut, The Fame, with a couple of songs tacked on. The fact that it was even nominated for Album of the Year belies how strongly the category is influenced by sales and media exposure.
4- Teenage Dream, by Katy Perry – While catchy, it is essentially a standard pop album by a womanchild whose main talent is having, and heaving, magnificently large breasts. I’m sure this slot was contested between her and Ke$ha (pronounced Keh-cash-ha), with Katy winning out after the formal chest-measuring.
5- The Suburbs, by Arcade Fire – An album that probably played to the Grammy committee’s ears like a Canadian (read: quieter, quirkier) version of Coldplay, which explicitly lyrically references the current year and is about an area that I would wager a solid 90-something percent of them grew up in.
Next to the other albums, Arcade Fire should be a clear winner, even in the eyes of someone who hasn’t really ever heard of them before. Personally I have heard more of every other album than The Suburbs itself and I could tell you without feeling overreached or uninformed, that it is the best-produced, well-thought out and most relevant album. As for the Grammy committee, it’s not quite clear who they are, what their criteria for Best Album is, or if there is a deeper motivation to their voting beyond quality, I would venture a guess that they, separately and each in their own way, thought the album was pretty neat-o. And through this, managed to have the most talked-about Grammys in years.