A musician I know and respect recently posted about the Grammys on Facebook saying that he “doesn’t follow pop music”, but wondered “if most [Grammy] ‘winners’ create anything of lasting artistic value.” Wow. I found that to be a very bold statement given that he claimed not to know any of the music these artists produced. Shortly after, I saw another post by an established folk musician ranting about the quality of the music featured on the Grammys. And by the size of comment thread after both of these posts, it seems like a common sentiment among musicians in many alternative genres.
I think that we do ourselves a disservice as musicians to start debasing the “value” of certain music over others. Back in college I took linguistics and the very first lesson my teacher taught us was that when analyzing language one could never attribute a value to one language over another. Or even to the “level” of language, for example how slang is considered lower class than Shakespearian English. Why? Because fundamentally language develops among people to communicate. And if it is doing that, then it’s serving its primary purpose. We can certainly observe the different qualities of each vernacular, but to ascribe a value to any language is a slippery slope because it quickly becomes a subjective judgement of something that is merely a representation of an idea.
I agree that the Grammys are a bit of racket celebrating sex, showmanship, and money in entertainment. But there are lots of people who love the music produced by those artists. Who are we to judge what they may or may not take from it? If any of those artists creates even one song powerful enough to break through the gatekeepers and capture the world’s attention for a day, then all the power to them. It’s a noisy world now, and I can understand that maybe you need to have really simple chord progressions with one syllable words pumping to a super loud beat to get the world’s attention. And if you have the gumption to hump onstage or wear a meat dress to help your cause then maybe you deserve it.
For those of us that can hear and appreciate more complex chord changes, lyrics, and subtleties of tone, there are myriads of musical shades to explore. But I will deliberately refrain from using the word “sophisticated” to describe that sort of music, because that is subjective. It may be different and more complex, but it’s not necessarily more “advanced”.
I hope that we musicians will be able to rise up and hold a neutral space for all kinds of music-making rather than judge it. Because like it or not, those Grammy musicians we denigrate are our colleagues and they are closer to us than we think. The longer we choose to divide and conquer amongst ourselves the more we give away our collective power and dilute the ultimate goal of communicating through music. The music world is in dire need of mentors and that means being confident that all versions of music have their place.
So, who cares if you’re a one-hit wonder? I don’t. In fact, I respect you for it. And if I like your song, I will even sing along. Because if I feel your groove then you’ve touched something in me, and if you’ve managed to capture the world’s attention through music, even for a moment, then your work has resonated. I’d rather talk about the attributes of what you’re doing that are getting people excited and have a conversation around that. In fact, maybe our biggest challenge as musicians is to practice having analytical conversations that themselves have more “lasting artistic value”.