The Grammys: What Did It All Mean, Maaaan?

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via Hipster Runoff
Last night, with breaks only for The Simpsons, dinner, and a quick nip down to the pub (the Cha Cha), I watched as much of the Grammys as I felt like. Riveting stuff as always. Lady Gaga wore something. Katy Perry's rack sang a song. Somehow I missed Cee-Lo Green singing with the Muppets (unless y'all were just yanking my chain on that one), which was frankly the coolest-sounding thing out of the whole lineup. But I digress. All the live-blogging and Twittering has been done; what's needed this morning is a cold, sober wrap-up of WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, MAAAAN?! Here you go.

Album of the Year: The Suburbs, Arcade Fire: This is the big one. As critic Chris Weingarten tweeted last night: "That's the sound of 100 think pieces about what "indie" means 2011." Hipster Runoff's headline was simply "We Did It" accompanied by a poem ("We finally/Rode our BMX bikes/Out of the Suburbs"). So here's your think piece in brief: This award represents the music industry establishment's (typically late) admission that there's nothing a major label can do that an indie band and label can't. Or at least one of the big indies, anyway (Merge, Sub Pop, Matador, XL, etc).

But as Weingarten also tweeted: "Indie rock didn't rise to meet the Grammies; the industry sunk to meet us." And indeed, the end result of file-sharing and other changes in the way people distribute and consume (if not actually purchase) music has been a dramatic lowering of the bar for success--a year in which, yes, the Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend and the Decemberists all scored #1 albums, but so did Cake even with a record low in album sales. One thing that may never change is that late-pass aspect of the Grammys: This award went to Arcade Fire two albums after their best work (and no, The Suburbs is not more "meaningful" or bombastic [i.e., Grammy bait] than either of their previous albums), and every Grammy is a tacit lifetime-achievement award.

Record of the Year and Song of the Year: "Need You Now," Lady Antebellum: Apparently, there is an entire part of the country south of Brooklyn and east of SXSW. Who knew?!

New Artist: Esperanza Spalding: And then, sometimes, the Grammys will buck pop expectation--Bieber, maybe Drake in a long shot--to prove that they're still "with it," that it's still all about the music, or some such swill. Still, was that a shout-out to Portland? And a stand-up bass? OK, this lady is cool.

Female Pop Vocal Performance: "Bad Romance," and Pop Vocal Album: The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga: I mean, duh. And, sure: Yay! Also, did you see her talking to Anderson Cooper about smoking pot? So edgy.

Male Pop Vocal Performance: "Just the Way You Are," Bruno Mars; Pop Performance by a Duo or Group: "Hey Soul Sister," Train: One thing about the state of music and the Grammys in 2011 is that it's entirely possible for even a voracious music fan and pop-culture junkie to satisfy all their needs in little, self-segregated corners of the Internet, where you can download the new Nicolas Jaar mix but you won't ever be exposed to the Top 40. This is good. The monoculture was a drag (even if it made being part of the cool "underground" possible); infinite niches are way more fun. Still, I have no idea what either of these songs sound like.

Alternative Album: Brothers, the Black Keys: No jokes. This should have been Vampy Weeks. Contra was one of the best albums of 2010 full stop.

Rock Song: "Angry World," Neil Young: The Grammys remember Neil Young.

Rock Album: The Resistance, Muse: I don't get it--aren't these guys just 30 Seconds to Mars without any Jordan Catalano?

Rock Performance: "Tighten Up," the Black Keys: I'm assuming this is a cover of Homer Simpson's one-man-band song of the same name?

Solo Rock Vocal Performance: "Helter Skelter," Paul McCartney: The Grammys remember the Beatles.

Historical Album: The Beatles (The Original Studio Recordings): No, really, the Grammys remember the Beatles.

Rap Album: Recovery, and Rap Solo Performance: "Not Afraid," Eminem; Rap Performance by a Duo or Group: "On to the Next One," Jay-Z and Swizz Beatz; Rap Song: "Empire State of Mind," Jay-Z and Alicia Keys; Rap/Sung Collaboration: "Empire State of Mind," Jay-Z and Alicia Keys: The Grammys prefer their rap music to come from CEOs and white people. Shocka!

Urban/Alternative Performance: "(Forget) You," Cee Lo Green: Aw, look, they made up a category for the "song also known as 'Forget You.'"

Electronic Dance Album: La Roux, La Roux: The Grammys still prefers its electronic music as conventional pop songs.

Spoken Word Album: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Audiobook), Jon Stewart; Comedy Album: Stark Raving Black, Lewis Black: The Grammys have better taste in comedians than they do in music.

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