Royals, droids, vampires: The Grammy’s struggle for relevance

Contact Katy Coduto at [email protected].  

Katy Coduto

I accidentally started a few Twitter fights about a month ago when the Grammy nominees were announced. I tweeted something along the lines of, “Wow, these awards are really irrelevant,” and got responses ranging from the more thoughtful – “Well, then how do you measure relevance?” – to plain mad – “You’re dumb.”

I get it. The Grammys have to be relevant; when we look back on numbers and stats, one of the first numbers we look at is how many Grammys an artist won in his or her career. We don’t hold the VMAs or American Music Awards to the same standards of excellence. It’s the Grammys that carry the prestige and serve as the pinnacle of music achievement.

But that’s false. If you saw the latest Grammy ceremony, very little of what happened on that stage represented the state of music in 2013. There were times when it came close to the mark – Kacey Musgraves winning for country album felt like an accurate representation of the genre’s current state – but it often fell so, so far from the mark.  

The rock categories were scary. While Vampire Weekend was more-or-less destined to win Best Alternative Music Album, the other rock categories – and their winners – were so far off. Led Zeppelin winning Best Rock Album? Black Sabbath winning Best Metal Performance? It was easy to forget what year we were in.

Sure, some of the wins were solid. It’s hard to be mad about Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” having a dominant night, especially because we all got to experience Pharrell’s hat again and again and again. A more poetic moment was Lorde winning Song of the Year for “Royals” in a room full of the richest people in the music industry. The 17-year-old from New Zealand was refreshing with her short speeches and honest weirdness.

 But the Grammys are struggling to stay relevant across genres, including in their “In Memoriam” segment. The part of the night traditionally recognizing artists and industry notables who have died in the past year left out major players in the heavy metal genre. Slayer founding member Jeff Hanneman (a two-time Grammy winner) was nowhere to be found in the slideshow, and original Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr also failed to make the cut, despite playing on some of the band’s most significant breakthrough tracks.

In a way, the Grammys are allowed to rewrite history. Years from now, there’s a chance that someone will look back at the stats and assume that Macklemore was the face of hip-hop (he wasn’t) or that Black Sabbath was the biggest act in metal (not anymore). But the odds are equally great that same someone will look past the number of Grammy awards an artist won to learn about the true person or group, especially as technology continues to evolve.

And honestly, can you remember who won album of the year last year?