We go into each year of the Grammys with low expectations. We know that most of the performances will either be snooze-a-thons, or else embarrassingly bad. We also know that most of the cool music we love won't win any prizes from the establishment, although no one cares that much who brings home trophies.
Nevertheless, we still watch, partly for the trainwrecks, but also to cheer on our favourites. When the musicians you love get some recognition, you can feel a bit better about the rest of popular culture and your place within it. It's not that we expect the Grammys to know what's good, but we do expect it to reflect the mainstream. Increasingly though, the Grammys seem to want to be taken more seriously, which is leading them even further down the road of irrelevancy.
The 2013 Grammys seemed like they were designed for someone's dad. And when was the last time dads knew what was really going on in pop music? You could see the beginnings of this approach last year, but at least they still made some effort to cater to the kids.
Then again, given the state of the music industry, maybe we can't blame them for giving up on the demographic that used to be the main market for new releases. If most people under 25 mainly just listen to music on YouTube, maybe it makes sense to focus on the only people who still buy records. Apparently that means boomers and country music fans (do they not have the internet in the south yet?).
Yeah, we know that Frank Ocean performed, but the only things even vaguely dangerous about his performance were the problems he had hitting his notes and the male pronouns peppered into his love song. Otherwise, it was just another pleasant soul ballad that would fit comfortably on any classic Motown playlist.
Miguel and Wiz Khalifa sounded much better, and marked the only moment of the night that contemporary rap was performed onstage. However, let's not ignore that Adorn is based heavily on Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, or that Miguel's brand of R&B is quite easy for anyone who hasn't listened to black music since the early 80s to love. Yeah, he's awesome, but in the kind of way that Rolling Stone can get behind.
Rihanna sounded surprisingly human for a change, and even seemed to be channeling some genuine emotion and pain onstage. Maybe Adele telling off Chris Brown for not standing up with everyone else when Frank Ocean won shook her up a bit? Nevertheless, heart-wrenching ballads aren't what we generally turn to Rihanna for. It felt more like dance pop had been banned from the stage this year in an effort to project a grown up image.
Heavily autotuned vocals were definitely absent, and while that may just reflect that the fad has passed, it seemed more like the Grammys were desperate to prove that they stand for "real music". As Dave Grohl made clear last year in his acceptance speech, there are many people (especially above a certain age) who have convinced themselves that real music is only made using pieces of wood with strings, and that computers will steal the soul of any artist that touches them.
Of course they would never admit that openly, and don't want to be seen as out of touch, so they had LL Cool J constantly telling embarrassingly lame jokes about Twitter and hashtags. If they wanted to prove that they were down with the kids, having him team up with a bunch of other dad-rappers and rockers (or pioneers, if you want to be nicer about it) wasn't the smoothest way of going about it.
Jack White's two song performance was easily the most exciting moment of the night, but there wasn't much about it that would've been out of place 35 years ago. Oh right, he sang the word "fuck" once. What a bad boy rocker.
Black Keys were also fun enough, but they're essentially a classic rock revival band at this point in their career. Teaming them up with Dr John and the Preservation Hall Jazz band only emphasized that, even if it sounded great. They should hire a tuba player full time.
Justin Timberlake just seemed like he's really trying to prove that his upcoming comeback album will showcase a more grownup JT. So basically he's trying to be boring, and mostly succeeding.
It's fitting that Mumford & Sons won the coveted Album of the Year award, as they perfectly represent the clumsy yearning for authenticity that made this the most boring Grammys I've ever watched. Their whole shtick is based on the idea that they're real musicians because they play real instruments, and the absurd proposition that modern life and sounds are somehow fake (despite the fact that they're actually just upper class Brits pretending to be poor country folk).
I'm not saying we should ban guitars and grand pianos, but making them a requirement seems a bit heavy handed, not to mention a surefire recipe for a boring awards show. Nevertheless, I'll still probably watch again next year.