Monday, February 13, 2017

Grammys 2016: The Mall is Lame

Artists A and B.
I caught the last 5 minutes of the Grammys -- enough to see Adele win "Best Album" for her record "25" (beating out Beyonce's "Lemonade"), and enough to see Adele's all-white crew on stage.

As Adele fought back tears and gave props to Beyonce, I couldn't help thinking that part of why she was crying was the Internet was about to start laying into her for winning and for being #GrammysSoWhite.

The world is predictable, sometimes. Let's clarify a few things.

"25" was a massive record. How massive?

"In 2015, [Adele's] '25', which ended the year as the most popular release by a mile, sold more than the best-selling titles of 2013 and 2014 combined album has sold at least 7.4 million copies in a calendar year since Usher’s "Confessions" just barely missed the 8 million mark back in 2004. It’s also worth noting that 25 was released in November, so it added up all those sales in less than two months
Adele’s latest blockbuster was responsible for 3% of all albums sold in 2015. That percentage is greater than any record released this millennium, and while it sounds like a small number, remember that this data counts all albums sold from any artist.  
In terms of actual physical CDs sold, 25 was still in the lead, and in fact, the album that spawned the gargantuan worldwide hit “Hello” was responsible for 4% of all CD sales."

The absolute numbers may not be in "Thriller" territory, but in terms of industry impact, that is an astounding achievement. And note that is just for 2015. This was the 2016 Grammys, which means she racked up even more sales and impact. And in the much-diminished music business of 2017, that means a lot.

Regarding Beyonce,

"Lemonade" is 2016’s third-biggest-selling album and one of only two albums released in 2016 to sell at least one million copies. Drake’s "Views", with 1.196 million sold, is the other. Adele’s "25" -- which was released in 2015 -- is 2016’s best-seller, with 1.334 million sold this year. (In total, "25" has sold 8.774 million.)

Beyonce made a record that made a big splash. She did an entire "video album" filled with provocative imagery which slotted nicely into the ideology of her fans, who felt it made a statement.

As of today, her album "Lemonade" can still only be streamed on TIDAL -- it is not available on Apple Music or Spotify, the two largest streaming services. This almost certainly contributed to the lower sales and lower recognition.

Perhaps more importantly, The GRAMMYS are lame. They always have been, and they probably always will be.

Complaining about the Grammys selections is like griping that the mall doesn't have any cool indie stores. Duh. It's the mall. That's not what they do. If you're looking for cool or cultural relevance or good taste, you are not going to find it there.

The list of great artists (of all colors) ignored by the Grammys is long. (I am sure artists of color have been treated worse than white artists.)

None of us should be looking to the Grammys for any kind of artistic validation. They are meaningless, and largely driven by industry insiders who are paying attention to things like how well the record was engineered or the marketing campaign or, yes, raw sales.

I see this as part of a trend in the culture. Today, people demand that institutions, power structure, and "the man" support or pay tribute to their ideology. This is a contrast or change from a few decades ago when people simply ignored the institutions and power structure and created their own DIY systems and structures for validation.

Put another way, we didn't go the mall, we started our own cool indie shops. But now, people demand the mall be cool.

I'm not sure which is more righteous, effective, or "correct". I do know that I listened to both albums by A & B, and I thought they were perfectly competent, enjoyable representations of what pop music sounded like in 2016. I did not buy either one, and I have no desire to hear either of them again.