Like most award shows, the Grammys are pretty much worthless. Somehow, the idea of winning one of these golden gramaphones still holds some level of credibility, but when you actually take the time to stop and consider the quality of many of the… *cough*… “artists” that have been awarded these things, much of the potency behind that “achievement” becomes quickly diluted. Was there EVER any real legitimacy behind the awards? Was I too young to know any better, have our musical tastes gotten worse, or do we only remember the greats? By this point, it feels like these honors are passed around a lot more like letterman jackets than a Nobel Prize for physics. If you do decide to pay any attention to these ceremonies, it can create some mixed feelings. When the Coen Bros and P.T. Anderson won Academy Awards, I was happy to hear that someone won that I felt deserved it, but I was also confused by my own emotions. “Don’t I hate these things anyway?” Still, I always loved for Nirvana to take home awards; not despite the fact that Kurt Cobain would treat the souvenirs like doorstops and worthless pieces of shit, but because of it. In response to the Oscar nomination for his documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, Banksy has even been quoted as saying, “I don’t agree with the concept of award ceremonies, but I’m prepared to make an exception for the ones I’m nominated for. The last time there was a naked man covered in gold paint in my house, it was me.” Maybe the idea that such artists could still “win” symbolizes the last remnant of imagined validity left in these glorified traditions or, more likely, it could just be the feeling that someone sneaked in and pissed all over the cool kids’ party. Even if you didn’t want to go to the party, the idea of not being allowed in can still result in good times throwing fire-crackers through the window. Does the nomination itself mean that the previously lesser profiled artists, no matter how generally subversive, have been given the invitation to sit at the hip table, or even that their previous fanbase will abandon them? Sometimes it might just mean that performers with actual talent are recognized. Regardless of the reasons or the meanings behind them, I have to believe it’s a good thing that, after almost a decade and half a dozen albums, Akron, Ohio‘s The Black Keys finally had a trio of well-deserved Grammys thrown in their direction last night.
I hadn’t been watching the Grammy ceremony at all, but I tuned in after getting a text asking why Cee-Lo Green was singing with “Muppets“. Some of my frames of reference have yet to catch up to the reality of the times and I liked the idea that a member of the Goodie Mob was centerstage. I turned in to find him dressed like Elton John for “Crocodile Rock“/Muppet Show homage, but he was performing a censored version of his song “Fuck You” as a duet with Gwyneth Paltrow. It would have been better to not have seen that. I changed it. Later I changed it back in time to see the former-star of Canadian teen drama, Degrassi: The Next Generation (aka: Drake) incorporate the old-school, off-color oral-sex riddle about the square root of 69 equaling “8 (“ate“) something” into his verse. “Wow, the Grammys have really reached a new level of standards,” I thought. Meanwhile, the camera was focused intently on Rihanna‘s gyrating crotch, which was disgus- …. well, I guess that was alright. The point is that I was having even more mixed feelings. I caught a glimpse of Marc Anthony looking like a smack junkie and then watched pleased as an independent Canadian label act, Arcade Fire, upset the likes of Eminem, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Lady Antebellum for album of the year. I’d never heard of young country act, Antebellum, but they definitely looked both surprised and as if they were gonna cry when they didn’t take home the award. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, had another stupid fucking hat blocking her face. So I guess the cheerleader, church group, white thug, and attention-whoring drama student lost the talent show to the music kids. Good. I was happy to see Arcade Fire win and to find out later about The Black Keys‘ Grammys, but, aside from that, I still didn’t put too much thought into the whole award ceremony. That is until today, when a few specific online responses prompted me to assess a few deeper perspectives of my own.
People seem to enjoy remaining on their particular side of the fence on things. You may have heard by now that Justin Bieber fan’s lost their fucking minds over their wispy haired messiah losing the Best New Artist award to jazz bassist/vocalist/virtuoso, Esperanza Spalding, and attacked her wikpedia page with death threats and slander. Biebs was considered eligible for a “new artist” award, yet this kid already had the gall to release both a book and a film version of his memoirs. Spalding, on the other hand, attended college at 16 and by the time she was 20, was already teaching music at the highly respected Berklee College of Music. There doesn’t appear to be any 3D biographies planned in her immediate future. Esperanza performed at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in honor of Barack Obama, while Justin was invited to the White House because the first children are fans. Bieber fans don’t deny their positions, but what about people that consider themselves anti-corporate and on the other end of the spectrum? After posting something about the Grammys on my Facebook wall, a friend of mine, who’s opinions I generally respect, commented that “arcade fire suck just as much as gaga and perry.” Obviously, the fact that we have differing opinions doesn’t affect our friendship, but I still think that’s a misguided statement. Katy Perry is an aimless candy pop-star recycling vocal deliveries from the likes of Alanis Morrissette and Lady Gaga is recycling old ideas from an aging pop-star from the 80s that already stole her image from an icon from the 50s. Katy Perry uses her rack for attention, while Gaga just swipes design concepts from Mark Ryden paintings. It took me a while to even give Arcade Fire a chance myself, so I understand the aversion, but I also realize that I was mostly rejecting them based off of an idea that they had some level of shallow popularity. After investing some adequate time, however, I can’t honestly deny the obvious substance behind their lyrics and song structures. The sheer fact that Gaga and Perry seem to be much more focused on image than anything, separates them in my opinion. Another comment I received on my Facebook wall was, “…Kill your TV! It’s been over over 7yrs since I have had the pleasure of brainwashing…” Alright, so I’m using my website to comment on my friends comments that they’ve made to me and that might be a mistake, but this is what got me really thinking about the way that the world might truly be constructed, as opposed to empty idealistic concepts that exist. If you’re still referring to watching television as an evil form of brainwashing, you probably shouldn’t be making those statements on a site that is arguably far more detrimental to your immortal soul than the history channel. The last thing that really got me thinking was when a friend of mine in South America popped up on my gmail chat and I sent him the new Black Keys video for “Howling For You” (posted below). His sarcastic response was that he was surprised that it wasn’t a commercial, because, as he put it, they are “corporate whores” now. I told him that I thought that might be a misguided statement from someone that pirated their album in the first place. He responded that he still loves their music, but that he’s lost respect, because they somehow don’t “need” the money. It still doesn’t add up to me. [Update: a year later he asks me to get him into a Foster the People show]
I’m at a point where I really don’t give a fuck about sides and ideas or concepts of credibility infused in an image, I just want to hear the substance and feel it. Some of these “indie bands”, like Vampire Weekend, just sound like a terrible fucking pop band to me and some of these corporate folks can occasionally throw down a solid jam. Even Brit Brit has some infectious grooves; often produced by 2/3 of the band Miike Snow. Maybe it’s because I’m having a child that I’m thinking this way, but the line is getting way too smeared to hold on to abstract, elitist, ideas about your own connections to legitimacy. Animal Collective was once respected as a noise group that put out albums with the likes of Black Dice. Indie noise fans loved them and the pop kids did not. Next thing you know, they got super fucking popular and the original fans started jumping ship. It’s understandable and, in all fairness, their music did go in a much poppier direction, but I always have to wonder what percentage of these descents and appropriations actually have to deal with the music at all. If the Meat Puppets stayed as a strictly hardcore band, Meat Puppets II and Up On the Sun would have never been created, but I’m sure that there are still a shit ton of people who would have preferred that. The line used to be so much easier to draw before you could simply buy your goth clothes at the mall. Or was it? Remember, there was a time when punk kids only used safety pins because their clothes were ripped… but that didn’t last long either.
So, as a group that has slowly and tirelessly worked their way up in the music game for years to finally get somewhere, The Black Keys are already beginning to see a backlash. Their new awards are sure to surround them with even more haters, as well as an even wider fanbase. I don’t think it will phase them in the slightest. After working this long and this hard, how could it? I saw them perform at local corp rock station‘s holiday concert bash last year, alongside drastically different acts like Jimmy Eat World. Although the crowd was wack as fuck and the overall show was pretty corny, the Keys threw down hard, with an inspired performance. I got the feeling that they could have been playing in someone’s basement or to a stadium of thousands, and it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference. They don’t have to live off of ramen noodles anymore and I think that they are just gonna run with it and enjoy themselves for the time being. For their new video for “Howling for You,” they are already beginning to test their unorthodox connections and experiment with new possibilities. The duo has teamed up again with their “Tighten Up” video directior, Chris Marrs Pillermo, for what can only be described as a grindhouse-style, Robert Rodriguez-inspired mini-film. The all-star cast features such talents as model/actress, Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica, Burn Notice), Corben Bernsen (L.A. Law, Major League), Todd “Willis” Bridges (Different Strokes), and snowboarder/skateboarder, Shaun White.
Here’s the official description via IMDB:
“Alexa Wolff, a sexy assassin with a troubled past, unknowingly falls in love with the man who killed her father. He is not her first love, though. Two other men came before. But they would not have her. Now, all grown up with an appetite for revenge, Alexa’s leaving a trail of bloody corpses and broken hearts in her wake.”
Yep, that’s right. Being created and presented in the form of a film trailer, the “Howling For You” video was originally posted to the popular movie site last Friday and credited as being a film “short.” Maybe the Black Keys are just one more group in a long line of favorites that you’ve been forced to slowly watch being devoured by popular culture. Maybe their growing popularity is just one more thing that is inevitably drawing you closer to the masses, which you’ve found so much solace in separating yourself from through the types of media that you enjoy. Well… don’t fret little one. Your identity should be definable by much more than that and, if you really need a distinct reference point to create that wall between you and those that you look down on, there are still some fairly distinct ways to remember that you’re on one side of the fence or the other. In this particular case, you should be able to find some comfort through just reading comments on the official IMDB page for the video. Have you found it yet? That’s right, there are a ton of negative “critiques” from people who believe that this is the trailer to an actual movie. So, now you can just feel better about yourself, based on the realization that you know better than to be confused by obvious shit like this. Or better yet, you can find pride in simply not being the type of person who goes on IMDB and gets riled up and loses their fucking mind reviewing a movie trailer.