The Grammy Awards: Your Uncool Uncle

“The Grammys is the one award that doesn’t matter to anyone until they win one.”

For 15-20 years, I dismissed the Grammys as utter crap. It all started back in 1989, when they decided to branch out and recognize heavy metal and hard rock with its own category/award. And in a year when Metallica’s …And Justice For All ruled the rock/metal world (and, in my opinion, were still good and relevant), who was awarded the Grammy? Jethro Tull.

I repeat: Jethro Freaking Tull. A band with a flautist. How metal.

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It was an insult, a joke, and the moment I quit caring about the Grammys. And why should I? The music that mattered to me wasn’t even getting radio airplay most of the time, let alone being recognized by the industry. If a band I liked would’ve won a Grammy back then, I would’ve expected them to either not show up to receive it or give a vulgar and disparaging acceptance speech, detailing the ways the award was a joke and meant nothing to them. Breaking it on the stage would have been a plus.

In the early 2000’s I started watching the Grammys again, mostly out of morbid curiosity. There were some interesting wins here and there, some I agreed with and a lot I didn’t. There were interesting performances, some memorable and some miserable. But what became more and more clear is that for every tragic misfire there would usually also be a step in the right direction.

A prime example: in 2007 and 2008, Slayer won back-to-back Grammys. Slayer, one of the least commercial bands in the history of rock music, and one of my favorite bands. And all I could think to myself was, “It’s about damn time.” Suddenly the Grammys mattered, because a band I liked won one. And they humbly and graciously accepted the award, despite my wishes a decade earlier that any band I liked that won demolish the award immediately.

Now, I don’t always agree so wholeheartedly with who wins the Grammys (although I really don’t lose any sleep over any of it), but over the last few years I’ve come to view the Grammys as an uncool uncle you only see once a year—he isn’t as cool as he tries to be; he can sometimes be downright embarrassing; but, above all else he’s trying, and that counts for something.

Looking at this year’s rock nominees is a pretty good example: a handful of newer, and in my opinion more relevant artists mixed in with the likes of Black Sabbath, Neil Young, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin, for God’s sake. It seems to me more young acts should be nominated to keep interest in the awards, or else each new generation is going to write the Grammys off  as a bunch of geezers giving each other awards—although hopefully we never see another Jethro Tull-style goof up.

I had thought about doing a write up of the Grammys fully expecting it to be a snarky, sarcastic, excessively negative piece about the worthlessness of the awards. And while I still don’t think any band should care that much about winning one, it would be naive to say they don’t matter at all. The truth is, the Grammy is the biggest music award on the planet, and who wouldn’t like to be told their work is good enough to get one? The fact that they also give them to some of the worst songs/performers every year in the pop categories is another matter, and I’ll leave that issue to someone else.

I also have to admit that I’ve quite enjoyed the actual Grammy telecast the last few years; they really appear to be pulling out all the stops to make the show itself memorable, even if you don’t care about the actual awards. And with that, I’ll be the first to admit I’ll be watching Sunday night anxious to see who/what people are going to be talking about on Monday. Will you be watching?