Friday, February 19, 2016

My Take: Grammy Critics Getting It Wrong

As another edition of the Grammy awards have come and gone, we have been greeted with the same strain of second-guessing that has long infuriated me, due to its intellectual dishonesty. There is certainly legitimate criticism to be had, but rarely do critics of awards understand the logical failures of their own words, which render whatever point they were trying to make worthless. But before I get to that, allow me to say something positive about the show:

Ghost won a Grammy for "Cirice", and absolutely deserved it.

I quite enjoyed Ghost's album last year, with it making my Top Ten, and "Cirice" was one of my favorite songs of the year as well. It was only fitting that it capped off a great year for Ghost by winning a Grammy. Looking at the state of metal, even within the mainstream that the Grammys are willing to consider, it's a positive sign that Ghost was chosen as the winner. It shows that while I have been standing off to the side shaking my head at what metal is becoming, there is still a place for a band that is dark and heavy while retaining the musicality that makes music enjoyable to listen to. Kudos, Ghost. And kudos, Grammys.

That leads us to the critics of the show, who as always, have complaints about who won and who lost. It's just fine to have an opinion, but it has to be expressed in a way that doesn't reveal it to be petty griping. This year's biggest bone of contention is Taylor Swift's victory in the Album Of The Year category, beating out the hip pick of Kendrick Lamar. I haven't heard his album, so I will make no effort to take sides in the matter.

Where my troubles begin is that in much of the day-after criticism, there was a certain important point that was missing; the critics rarely said that Lamar's album was better.

That should seem like the first point that should come up if you're advocating that he was the more deserving winner. And yet, it was not. Instead, the commentary I was reading preferred to make the case that Lamar's album was more important because of the social commentary it provided, that his album captured the times in a way that Swift was unable to do. Those may very well be fair points, but they have nothing to do with picking what is supposed to be a better album.

The award is supposed to be for the best album of the year, and if the argument is about which one had a more pointed take on the social politics of the day, we're no longer arguing about music. While music can be powerfully political, that doesn't make it better than music that is written about unicorns and rainbows. Lamar's album is probably more significant in a cultural sense, I will grant you, but when did we start judging art by how it conformed to our politics, and not whether it was enjoyable?

If you thought "To Pimp A Butterfly" was the better record, that's perfectly fine. I'm just disappointed that the members of the media I read failed to make that argument in criticizing Swift's victory, despite the fact that she had made an album that was both critically acclaimed and the biggest of the year. That's no small feat, and the tone of the criticism brushed all of that aside without putting any logical weight behind the toss.

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