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‘Most Out-of-Date’: The Grammys

Veena Thomas

There’s an old story about how several hundred years ago, people in China were asked estimate the length of the emperor’s nose. No one had ever seen the emperor before, and thus had zero information regarding the subject. But, as they reasoned, if they questioned enough people, gathered a large sample size, and averaged the results together, surely they would reach a very ‘accurate’ estimation.

The 10,000 music professionals voting for the Grammy winners love this story.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) understandably retinkered its selection process in 1995, sensing something wrong with its horrible record in picking top music awards. Music legends like the Beatles and Bob Dylan were ignored while in their music prime. In 1975, The Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” beat out Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

Finally, NARAS realized what was painfully clear to the rest of us: the number of people picking an award is far less important than the level of expertise among the selection committee. So in 1995, NARAS appointed a smaller selection committee for the top four music prizes, in order to eliminate some obviously unworthy choices popular among the general voting body. Has it worked?

Apparently not. This year’s Grammy nominees featured what MSNBC described as “the interchangeable Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears” up for “Best New Artist.” Both blond former Mouseketeers, the two market the identical brand of sugary bubble-gum as a substitute for real music. Neither has particularly impressive musical talent; they must rely on their looks to sell their music. Britney Spears, rumored to have gotten her breasts enlarged at the age of 17, focuses more energy on countless photo shoots and calendars than on her music.

While it’s one thing to simply not have much musical talent, it’s another when your lyrics simply scare some of the population who happens to listen to them. A case in point: Spears’s “...baby One More Time,” with the ellipsis inserted in the place of the real lyrics, “Hit Me.” A selected sample of lyrics from the song: “Oh baby baby, how was I supposed to know that something wasn’t right here, show me how you want it to be, the reason I breathe is you, my loneliness is killing me hit me, baby, one more time.” How was she “supposed to know that something wasn’t right here”? Because domestic violence is illegal. Is it so complicated? While Spears denies that her song condones abusive relationships, her words speak for themselves. This is what the country supports as a “Best New Artist” nominee?

The male counterparts of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, the Backstreet Boys, rely on a huge fan base of pre-teenage girls to buy their albums and sell out their concerts. Why their fodder-for-the-masses single, “I Want it That Way,” should have been nominated for “Record of the Year,” is simply beyond comprehension and fosters an impression of this country as appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Thankfully, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears couldn’t both win “Best New Artist”; unfortunately, one of them actually did. Aguilera was said to be “truly stunned” (as was anyone with any musical taste) at her win. “Oh, my god, you guys, I seriously do not have a speech prepared... My god, thank you so, so much,” she so eloquently said in her acceptance speech.

Real musical talent or the ability to sell records and appeal to popular society -- what are the Grammys really supposed to measure? Said one news article, it’s as if “Scream 3” were to sweep the Oscars. Will anyone actually remember Britney Spears or the Backstreet Boys in ten years? Just ask the New Kids on the Block, no strangers to a meteoric rise to stardom that ended just ask quickly as it came, followed by backlash. Undoubtedly, what is so trendy and popular today will be the mark of the hopelessly uncool tomorrow.

Remember the Spice Girls? The Macarena? With such hopelessly out of touch judging, it’s no wonder the Grammys continue to lose credibility. Who won what award? Few remember a few days after the awards ceremony. When the memory of Jennifer Lopez’s dress has more staying power than the actual awards winners, it’s time for a massive overhaul of the system.