Column: Wiley's Follies
A State Of The Union Address
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 22:02
Mr. Timberlake, Mr. White, Members of fun., distinguished guests and fellow musicians: today marks my first State of the Grammys address to you.
It’s no secret that the house of music has been divided over the last decade. The struggle for radio time has been contentious. The very medium of our music has been challenged—from CDs to iTunes, from iTunes to Spotify—the industry is at war.
At stake at the Grammys this year was not simply LL Cool J’s future employment, nor the integrity of Marcus Mumford’s quasi-beard, although those certainly were two important questions of the evening. Rather, at stake was everything we value going forward, whether the integrity of an art form may endure.
So what made the 55th annual Grammys any different from the 54th? To start, although it drew some visible disapproval, namely from Katy Perry’s neckline, the “wardrobe advisory” issued for the event did wonders. Some would argue distasteful side-boob is far from a musical concern, and others (of questionable motivation) would go so far as to claim such is the true reasoning for the night. But when we start to look at the wardrobe advisory from the context of Lady Gaga’s arriving in an egg at the 2011 Grammys, or Nick Minaj’s dressing as a jungle creature the same year, it makes sense. An occasion for music, about music, honoring musicians, not sensationalism: this certainly seems a worthwhile aim for the night.
And generally, the evening lived up to this standard. Apart from Taylor Swift’s bizarre Alice In Wonderland fantasy sequence opening the show, the acts themselves were exceptionally classy. Timberlake’s return to the stage with “Suit & Tie” and “Pusher Lover Girl” took on the opulence of 1920s big band, with him and Jay-Z both performing in tuxes, cummerbunds, and floppy bow-ties. When the Grammys can establish itself as a black-tie affair, the attire can simply fall into place, and the music can flourish.
As for the winners of the night, they too suggested a heightened purpose for the occasion. When Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” trumped contender Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” for Record of the Year, there was a nearly audible sigh of relief. Two breakup anthems, fairly akin in content, but worlds apart in maturity. Granted the nominees this year, anarchy has never been closer to the Los Angeles stage. “Call Me Maybe” was even recognized as a possible Song of the Year, cause enough for panic. And when indie pop group fun. won instead, they were not the only winner, so to speak—I like to believe humanity was.
Perhaps the best indicator the right people won this year was their attitude—for the most part, they didn’t seem too surprised. Humble, yes. Grateful, of course. But it wasn’t like previous years, when Taylor Swift would come up in tears, with this terrified look as if to say, “I didn’t expect this. You picked the wrong person.” Instead, the two bands receiving the night’s highest honors, Mumford & Sons and fun., took up a tone far more enlightened than Swift’s, suggesting, “This is wonderful and we’re honored, because we worked for this.” There’s only this subtle distinction between humility and disrespect, but nevertheless, it’s an important one.
And so, for another year, music endures. I recognize the difficulty in claiming there’s an integrity to music, that something so reliant on change, can be praised for constancy. It’s an art like the weather, changing by the month, by the season, by the year. But while it’s unreasonable to claim a single irregular year constitutes a climate crisis, 10 consecutive years might. For me, this is why the Grammys still exist. We cannot judge music on time-honored principles. We cannot expect it to stay the same, and much as we cannot hope it’s always different. All we truly can control is where it goes, not over a year, perhaps not even over a decade, but in due time. The integrity of music is not a set path, but rather a wise direction, not precisely how it gets there, but rather where it takes us.
And I’m happy to report that after 55 years of the Grammys—and the many thousand years before the Grammys—the state of our music is strong.