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This rant will seem like a contradiction to those who follow my writing. As someone who makes no secret about thinking the Grammys a largely vapid exercise in music industry masturbation akin to fondling one’s self while their house is burning to the ground, I must admit that, on occasion, they did one thing right (and I use the word “right” in the loosest possible way, and not without exception): they sometimes gave a boost to an act deserving of wider recognition.

Parsing the dozens of nominations given to a handful of acts per year to be crowned king of the shitty music hill out of that one right thing, it’s not unreasonable to see some merit in the award. They amplify the resume of artists even if they don’t win. When you see or hear about a Grammy-nominated artist doing anything anywhere that’s usually pretty clear. Every time you see their name on anything it’s going to be qualified with the phrase “Grammy-nominated”.

“Today in the news, Grammy-nominated Tex-Mex crooner Bedazzle Twitty was arrested for pandering.”

“We regret to inform you that Grammy-nominated musical group The Blow Me Downs were in a plane crash over Lake Minnetonka.”

You get the idea. It’s kind of impressive to just be nominated, even if you think the awards are kind of incestuous and based on bogus standards…and it SURE as hell don’t hurt as a lead-in to your press packet. And when that act is someone that’s actually good and original but maybe doesn’t get a lot of play on radio/VH1, or is an indie act, or sells CDs that they’ve dumped all their own money into, it’s downright gratifying for me. Ask Esperanza Spalding if a Grammy win isn’t important on some level. Even if I don’t like the band’s music, I like to see the system up-ended a little bit.

The problem is that the Grammys don’t feel the same way.

Yesterday The Recording Academy – the folks who handle the Grammys – released a list of changes to the number of awards that will be given in the future, dropping the total from 109 to 78. They have arrived at this number by chunking a lot of categories together into larger fields. So now there won’t be a “Best Contemporary Jazz Album”, “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” or “Individual Or Group Best Latin Jazz Album”. All of the artists that would normally have been in those respective categories will now have to duke it out in the new “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” category. The same sort of blanching occurs across the board in R&B, rap, gospel, pop...the whole shebang.

Maybe they’re tired of hearing that their shows are unwatchable and bile-inducing. Maybe it’s getting too expensive to host every year. Maybe they want to give the impression of placing more value on what awards are left. Maybe they have decided that the award should weigh more heavily on popularity and sales. Maybe it’s the eternally unbreakable combination of corporate suck, wack and ego. From the party line that’s been released it’s impossible to know in the specific. Based on what they’ve released so far it’s clear that the decision makers think that the general public will think it’s a good idea too. I imagine no one who wasn’t in the Grammy office the past twelve months knows the whole story.

But let me tell you what I DO know, because all of that stuff above is artist related, affecting the things that happen to artists. Let me tell you why this sucks for music fans, even those of us who hate the Grammys: there are a plethora of bands and genres (not the Grammy’s fake definition of genre but the real-world, college-radio record bin definition of genre) that no one would ever know about - or that artists couldn’t capitalize on - if there weren’t awards for them.

With the new changes it is very possible that if you didn’t already know who they were you might keep bouncing through life without ever knowing Eric Roberson or Meshell NdegeOcello or The Foreign Exchange or a hundred other really good “underground” acts that have managed to score Grammy nominations, but now have to contend with the Chris Brown/Kanye West hype machines in a much tighter R&B field. Replace the artist names and the genre from the previous sentence with relative awareness and success levels and the problem takes on a far more sinister tone.

And the genres! You might never hear about a Native American or Hawaiian musical act now that their respective awards have been rolled into the “Best Regional Roots Album” award with all the palefaces. Too obtuse? Fine. How about never hearing about dancehall because they’ve rolled all of the reggae artists in against whatever Marley kid record came out that year? Or never hearing a hardcore Delta blues musician because they now have to contend with a dozen Stevie Ray Vaughan imitators? Or drum-n-bass because of an electronic music category now stripped to cater to house remixes of 50 Cent songs? As a DJ and a hardcore fan of music in all its forms I know about these acts and genres – my iPod would kick most people’s teeth in - but I want you to know about these acts too. I don’t want the first time you hear about James Blake or Jesse Boykins III or Taylor McFerrin to be on my podcast. I want acts like these to be common, every day, part of our collective music conversation. These changes are lightweight offensive to fans because they will treat us like we only NEED to be aware of a handful of musical acts a year, and that what we’re being presented with is the top of the pile. Well, they aren’t the only ones we need to know nor are they the top of the pile.

Don’t get me wrong: the Grammys are hardly a clearinghouse for fringe musical forms or talent deserving of wider recognition that creates those forms. But for an industry whose money is on fire you’d think they’d want to convey the breadth and excitement that a diverse palette brings to the table...but then, you’d be thinking that the music industry is run by people who care about music, and you’d be wrong. The one thing they did right they’ve stopped doing. It’s one less tool people looking for music off the radar have to utilize.

I guess the lesson here is, “Don’t fuck with Justin Beiber.”

See you in the record bins.

Source: Grammy announcement