No, I didn’t watch.  But I discovered that the powers that be eliminated a whole bunch of categories.  There are now 20 award categories in Pop, Dance, Rock, R&B, and Rap, a quarter of the total.  Jazz has four, down from 11; Latin went from 16 to four; classical 15 to seven.   The Latin four are Pop,Rock or Urban; Regional Mexican or Tejano, Banda or Norteño, and something called “Tropical” which apparently covers Brazil, Cuba and everything else: one winner for half a hemisphere that’s produced a completely disproportionate share of the best music in the world, and more really different kinds of same as those 20 commercial American categories.  Chucho Valdès has to go up against Nina Becker? Come on! No, there’s no Latin jazz slot.

It is completely ridiculous, art appreciation by deaf people looking in a cash register and, I believe, a symptom of the general collapse of a functioning market for music in a digital age.



Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

15 thoughts on “Grammies”

  1. I think this decision says more about the market for televised award programs than the market for music.

    1. This. Bear in mind that having lots of categories can also “ghetto-ize” different art forms. For instance, the Oscars “Best Animated Feature” is the sort of thing that may prevent a superior animated film from getting a Best Picture nomination like “Beauty and the Beast” did.

      It doesn’t really matter who the Grammys honor anyway, because few people make music choices based on Grammy awards, but there are two sides to this coin.

  2. Actually, Michael is correct even though he may be expounding on the obvious. Money talks, and the arts are no exception, although unprofitable art forms are maintained by charitable and public monies. It is also true that what we are going to see on an award show is what the producers think will drive ratings, no matter how horrible (and there were some unimaginable stinkers last night.) It is also true that the newer digital modes are returning the “single” to prominence at the expense of the album cd.

    Still, while I never used to watch the Grammies, I have the last few years and occasionally get rewarded by a really special performance. There were a few last night, and in particular, McCartney playing from the second side of Abbey Road (something the Beatles probably never actually performed outside the studio) with an all star lineup of guitarists clearly thrilled to have the opportunity to “sit in.”

  3. “…I believe, a symptom of the general collapse of a functioning market for music in a digital age.”

    You’re assuming that the big corporations are really the core of the market for music.

  4. The commodification of music occurred long ago. And it was due to the efforts of radio programmers who needed to shut down anything truly creative so that the music resembled the commercials they were playing. And by rock critics who were often failed literature majors who did not have a clue about music theory. The loss of music appreciation in public schools starting in the early 1970s took its toll long ago as we are now in the third generation of students whose parents and maybe grandparents don’t know how to describe major and minor chords.

    The usual culprits, record companies, are ironically less responsible for the debacle. During the 1970s, the record companies signed bands like Gentle Giant and tried to promote Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick. It’s just that those bands were shut out or limited to what was “commercial.” Worse, for their efforts, these bands faced ridicule from major newspapers and trend setter magazines. One thinks of the idiot Robert Hilburn at the LA Times. Or the “Maude Finleys” like Robert Christgau at the Village Voice or John Palmer at the NY Times, who knew better but wanted rock to be dumb and extolled every Stepin Fetchit group that came along, starting with the O’Jays (the then up and coming Janet Maslin at the NY Times deserves special mention for her idiocy in thinking Ian Anderson was a Jesus freak, totally misunderstanding A Passion Play’s lyric, and having no clue about how to describe the music). They were extolling nonsense in the form of disco and then later excited about people smashing things, i.e. punk. But music for music’s sake? An accidental discovery for them.

    I actually agree with a commenter that the Grammys appear a bit more conscious now than they did during the period of the 1970s through the early 2000s. They nominated Dream Theater for something, and as far as pop bands go, I guess Foo Fighters is in the “amusing” category that Frank Zappa described most of “alternative” pop. Still, there were great albums by bands in the last six months that will go unplayed on corporate radio, unheard in most homes or cars and we are so much musically poorer for the result. Two quick examples: The latest 2011 releases from Haken and Symphony X knocked me out.

    The Grammys, as I have said for at least a quarter century, is the equivalent to having a culinary contest and each year, it’s McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks and Burger King vying for most of the awards. Units sold. Quickly provided, quickly digestible and bad for your long term health. That is the formula.

    The good news is that my son’s generation of music fans are able to find their bands through the Internet. They bypass corporate radio, and frankly, I’m not really sure how they hear of all these much more exciting musicians that are coming down the pike. Distribution alway seems a problem, but somehow they manage better than folks like my friends and I did in the 1970s, which was to simply rely on word of mouth to find Van Der Graaf Generator, for example…:-)

  5. Simple remedy: (pick one or more) Make your own guitar from a cigar box, buy a used piano off of Craigslist, hold musicales with your friends and their friends in your living room, sing while you do the dishes, attend a house concert near you.

  6. Oh, I don’t know. The music industry has always sucked. For at least 30 years now 95% of what is good has been off the airwaves, aside from public and college radio. It’s kind of like fast food: the big business is in franchises that pander to hackneyed and primitive tastes. Imagine if they had an awards show in which the nominees were Applebees, Red Lobster, and Carl’s Jr*. I’m not much much of a foodie, but when it comes to music, little of my collection will be found piping from the local corporate towers.

    I just noticed that Michael said near the same thing! Great minds… 🙂

    1. And for what it’s worth: my personal top ten for the last decade:
      (obviously my tastes are a bit slanted towards indie-rock)
      1. Rumah Sakit – Rumah Sakit
      2. Notwist – Neon Golden
      3. Sleater-Kinney – The Woods
      4. The Fiery Furnaces – Blueberry Boat
      5. TV on the Radio – Young Liars EP
      6. Radiohead – Kid A
      7. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
      8. John Vanderslice – Cellar Door
      9. The Church – Uninvited, Like the Clouds
      10. +/- – Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut

      runners up:

      Tarwater – Animals, Suns & Atoms
      Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
      Fucked Up – Chemistry of Common Life
      Madvillain – Madvillainy
      Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf
      Dilute – Grape Blueprints Pour Spinach Olive Grape
      Frog Eyes – The Golden River
      Wilderness – Wilderness
      Beirut – Gulag Orkestar

  7. Hmm. So the crowd that make a fetish of NOT SELLING OUT (ie actually becoming well known) are upset that they are not well known?

    What exactly is Michael upset about? He wants other people to like the music he likes? Well, I think it’s bizarre that no-one like the music I like as much as I do, but because I am not a fifteen year old, I don’t find this a cause for existential angst.

    As for “collapse of a functioning market for music in a digital age” give me a break. What’s the argument here? When corporations made plenty of money in music I, with my proudly non-conformist tastes, had plenty of good stuff to listen to, but now that corporations can’t make money in music, all the indie/world/esoteric jazz I love is no longer being produced? Huh?

  8. Um, Maynard, you might want to read what I wrote. I did not attack the record companies. I attacked the Grammys, radio programmers and rock critics for promoting pap, attacking intelligence in music, and themselves being musically ignorant or having an agenda separate from music (i.e. Christgau and Palmer at the Voice and NY Times, respectively). My taste is not irrelevant to the discussion, but I do say there is something about respecting music theory, musicianship and composition.

    Also, I would have been very happy if some of the more obscure bands had become household names. I did not share the view of those who would say, “I used to like ________, but then they became popular, and well, I don’t like them anymore.”

    1. Michael (O’Hare) is not the same as Mitchell (Freedman). I was replying to Michael’s post, not to your comment.

      I do actually have very little patience with talk of “musicianship” and “respecting music theory”, which I think of as alternating between
      – masturbation without hands;
      – “how can I impress this hot chick”; and
      – “I’m way too cool to judge other cultures — except where it comes to music, where certain rules [embedded in the Western canon] just ARE the one right way to do things”

      but it’s also a subject I have too little interest in to bother writing a rejoinder to your particular comment.

      1. I was ambiguous about whether you were responding to Michael or me because another commenter had said “Michael” when he meant “Mitchell.”

        On to the substance: Maynard, your defense of your position is akin to Sarah Palin’s usual rejoinder to anyone with a rational or logical argument: “You think you’re so smart.”

        But then you add “You just want to get chicks.” Sadly, the reverse is true for those of us who insist on liking genres like progressive rock. It is often the haven of the unattached and male. My wife once insisted early in our marriage to join me at a Bill Bruford concert, thinking there would be loads of unattached females as with the concerts she used to attend before our marriage. She laughed as she saw I was exactly right about who appeared. Since that time, and on the rare occasions I’ve attended any concert since that time (marriage does occupy us in other ways, and we are now on Year 25 together), she gladly gives me permission to go with another adult male or our son….

        Your other argument about masturbation is truly remarkable for its attack on music in a manner that is simply fascistic. You might as well quote the line about reaching for your gun when you hear the word “culture.” Still, it is something I find that happens when otherwise progressive people want to attack anything musically complex in rock. You are in company with the odious Robert Christgau on that score, I would say.

        1. I don’t know what Maynard is going on about. I would like to think that giving out awards ought to be based on artistic merit, according to some kind of knowledgeable and authoritative criteria, as opposed to popularity, which is a flawed criteria for any number of reasons. For the later you might as well read the results from the Billboard charts. But maybe the whole concept of an awards show is flawed to begin with.

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