By: Ben Johnson
I did not watch the Grammys. I also did not watch NCIS: New Orleans, or Hair Disasters: Miami Beach, or Dog Wars: San Diego, or a rerun of Frasier.
I heard some vague outlines of what happened at the Grammys. Some sort of sad staged thing with Kanye West and Beck happened, I think. Kanye West is 37 years old and Beck is 44 years old. Neither of them is the president of a country. Nobody on earth should care what either of them did or said to each other. I am 35 years old and I am not the president of a country. I can confirm this.
The Grammys are not for humans. If you watch them, you will be bored. Some portion of the people there were probably also bored, like “wow, this is much more boring than I expected.” Maybe that’s just me projecting. I would be bored at the Grammys. I’d be like “can’t we just sell the tickets and then go for a hike in one of those Los Angeles hiking places?” I’m not the only person like me. I’d guess there were some people in attendance at the Grammys who yawned during the Grammys at least once. I did see a meme that made it look like Prince was bored. Also: Prince is a weird space alien.
I’d like to apologize, by the way, for writing about the Grammys. I did not expect this. The Grammys are nothing, really. The Grammys are not even the Grammys. That seems important to keep in mind when thinking about the Grammys. They’re not even the Grammys.
I know that the Grammys are not even the Grammys because I saw this today. I guess a guy snuck some photos of himself into the Grammy Museum, which appears to exist and be a thing, and nobody noticed because they looked enough like pictures that would be in the Grammy Museum, and nobody actually cares what pictures of who are in the Grammy Museum. There are not, like, Grammy Museum “fans” who love it in there. It’s in downtown Los Angeles, near the Staples Center, and it is presumably air conditioned, and you can take your brat children there and pay $12 to go stand around and look at some music person things, and then later you get to go back to the hotel, and then even later than that you get to finally die. I have never been to the Grammy Museum, but I have a very strong feeling that it, like the Grammys themselves, is not for humans. In that way it is a successful museumification of the institution it represents. Good job, Grammy Museum.
The pictures of the guy, mostly just of a not famous guy eating tacos and talking about how tacos are good to eat, stayed in the Grammy Museum for a month, apparently. I mean, it’s all in that link I posted. Somebody asked a museum guard about who this unfamous dude was, and the museum guard said he thought it was a dude from One Direction, and that ended the inquiry, and this shows just how little the Grammy Museum is for humans. They have guards in there. In case people want to pay $12 to be in there and then do bad things. A human being was paid probably relatively not much, but also probably some five figure amount of money over the course of a year, to stand guard over some pictures of a random person eating tacos. That is the Grammiest thing I can imagine.
I don’t even care if any of this is bullshit. It’s so plausible. Its rank plausibility kills me.
I’m in grad school right now, okay? So I’ve been reading the most dense, erudite, pointlessly theoretical possible version of all the things I care most about recently. I’ve been reading about rock and roll and music by the people who talk about those things with enough authority and presence and depth to be offered jobs at academic institutions where they get to talk about those things for a living. They are convincing. To the point where, at these institutions, which are academy-type versions of the Grammys, everybody who listens to these people talk about those things and regurgitates their own version of those things with enough of their own panache gets to be certified “smart” when they’re done.
There are two versions of events these people have been able to figure out. One is that the music industry destroys and distorts some inherently “authentic” quality in music, and that some music has this quality and some music does not. Another is that there is no “authentic” quality in music, and that all things are relatively equal, and all of music and all of culture responds to market forces to take the shape it takes, and some music uses a “this is authentic” myth to prop up its standing in its own market. I think they’re both true. One is subjective, the other is more objective, or at least more transactional. Not that it matters.
Basically the truth is that there is a music industry whose job it is to convert the feeling you get from listening to music you like into an experience which you can pay for, and sometimes this is convenient and sometimes it is alienating. The Grammys are essentially a celebration of this conversion. “Best Conversion of sound to monetized version of sound” is pretty much every Grammy category. “Great conversion,” the artists are telling each other back stage, and “thank you, I’ve enjoyed your conversions for years.” The Grammys are not “about” music, because nothing can be “about” music. Music is just music. The Grammys are only music to the extent that everything is, which is to say some basic amount.
I mention all this because if music and culture unfold as a continuous response to market forces, and all things along the varied spectrum of success within this possess the intrinsic potential for relatively equal merit, then that random taco guy who faked his way into the Grammy Museum is exactly as important as Pharrell Williams and whatever hat he is wearing, or any of the professors of talking about music things, or any of the rest of us or anything we ever do. I can live with that. I support that, even. It’s perfect.
The narrative of the Grammys are that, look, the conversion process of sound into money is a thing itself. But it is not a thing. The entities involves in it are not, collectively, a thing. These are just random taco guys, eating tacos, in a museum we constructed arbitrarily. The Grammys are not for humans. They are for being and becoming an air conditioned place that costs $12 to be dragged to by your family which has a 13 year old in it who you can’t relate to and to be honest, can barely tolerate, and so spending $12 just to be in a room together that you both don’t actively hate is worth it. You go there, you look at the taco guys, you notice how many of the depicted taco guys are wearing scarves indoors, you become curious enough to ask a guard about why an unfamous person is eating a taco next to Rihanna, but not curious enough to actually find out, and you go on with your life with $12 less money and two hours less time.
So no, I did not watch the Grammys. But I also watched the Grammys. We all watch the Grammys. Every day. It’s almost all we ever do. We watch the Grammys and we go to bed, and wake up and watch the Grammys. If we’re lucky.