The Popular Awards

By Jacob Bretz America's most iconic music award show aired on Feb. 15 of this year. Through the course of the ceremony, dreams were realized or crushed, tears were shed, laughs were had—some really great music was recognized for the genius it is. But none of it mattered.

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To be sure, the Grammy Awards show is a prolific event in entertainment industry. Incredible exposure is promised to any musician even mentioned in passing during the televised event. Every acceptance speech seems a heartfelt thank you to the artist’s loved ones, support team, and the voting committee. Still, the Grammys flaws are impossible to ignore. As the "only peer-based music award,” they too often miss the mark of categorization, nomination and commendation. Also, there is a massive bias in terms of genre and popularity. While troubling, neither of these things really matter, because as a whole, giving awards to a pursuit as open-ended and artistic as music is not just ridiculous but totally regressive.

If the aim of the Grammys is to entertain, then it surely succeeds. Who could forget Taylor Swift and Stevie Nick’s performance of “Landslide” in 2010 or Gwyneth Paltrow and Cee-Lo Green’s rendition of “Forget You” with the starring cast of the Muppets? The Grammys is an awards show and the aim of an awards show, at least in part, is to entertain. That is not something the producers of the show could be faulted for. They are meant to be a celebration of music, both past and present. If the Grammys broadcast was simply the listing of all nominees and winners, not a single person in America would tune in. There needs to be excitement and pizzazz to hold viewers’ attention.

This entertainment, however, often seems empty. The Civil Wars riveting performance in the 2012 show was little more than a minute long, yet Rihanna and Coldplay were allotted 9 whole minutes to perform three songs that impacted the music scene far less than the seminal Civil Wars album. The film "A Place at the Table" not only cemented the Civil Wars’ place in the folk music scene, but also helped usher in an era of honest Americana that western music has not recovered from since. The performances chosen for the Grammys are based on neither merit nor talent, but on sheer popularity. Sure, there have been plenty of good performances at the Grammys over the years: the White Stripes, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, even Kendrick Lamar. None of these performers are chosen based on talent, but rather by popularity. However, this is not the glaring issue with the Grammys.

Beyond the issue of the performances of the Grammys, most of the nominations are flawed for a plethora of reasons. Often times, lesser known artists are slapped into the wrong categories and sometimes the best albums in a given category are left out of the application process altogether. In 1989, Metallica—perhaps the most iconic heavy metal group of all time—lost the first ever Grammy for a hard rock/heavy metal performance to Jethro Tull. Let me repeat that, a band whose main melodic instrument is a flute beat "And Justice for All." Even today, artists are consistently left out of their rightful categories. This year, Ghost won the Grammy for best metal performance. While Ghost conveys a particularly devilish attitude, their music barely holds any stylistic semblance to heavy metal. I won't even mention Elle King’s pop hit “Ex’s & Oh’s” nomination for Best Rock Song.

Besides the issues of categorization, the Grammys refuse to nominate plenty of worthy contestants to different categories. Where was the love this year for Vince Staples, Mick Jenkins, Lupe Fiasco, or A$AP Rocky in any hip-hop category? As for the Heavy Metal Performance Grammy, basically every important release was left out of the nominations—Cattle Decapitation’s “The Anthropocene Extinction,” High on Fire’s “Luminiferous,” and especially heavy metal pioneers Iron Maiden’s “The Book of Lost Souls.” It appears that not only do the various nomination committees not understand how to categorize artists properly, but they also fail to recognize significant performances within their respective genres.

It's easy to get caught up in the ineffectiveness of awards organization. Too often critics—myself included—struggle with the particularities of a certain awards show rather than criticizing the construct that is entertainment awards. If you would please then, look past the misrepresentation and under-representation. See the Grammys for what it truly is: bullshit.

If that seems too forward, let me paint this picture for you. The Grammys process starts with eight members of a specific genre’s screening committee meeting in a room. The only requirement for joining one of the committees is six or more credits on some sort of project within a specific genre. This can include performance, composition, engineering, arrangement, or even the writing of album liner notes—just about any job within the music industry qualifies.

So after this handful of so-called “experts” are rounded up, they sit in a room and are handed a stack of albums to pick through and categorize. After these albums are categorized, members of the voting committee may choose to vote in any five categories plus the big four—Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. There is no prerequisite for voting in specific nominations. Then, an even larger sample of the committee gets to vote on which of the nominees actually deserve the award.

So in the end, the winners are chosen by no more than a handful of people. The majority of these voters have little to no participation in the fields voted on. Does that not seem an inherently flawed system? This is why the Grammys should not be taken seriously, because the system does not allow for serious consideration of musicians.

Beyond concerns of structural issues, there persists the philosophical question of whether artistic pursuits should compete at all. Is it really the aim of the performances recognized at the Grammys to win? Does winning some symbolic award really add any merit to an artist’s work? Recognition is great, but competition, I am not so sure. Winning a Grammy does little to legitimize a work, it does nothing to add to its longevity. What happened to art for art’s sake? When an artist does win a Grammy that is good and fine, but when an artist fails to succeed, that may devalue a recording in the eyes of the public. Because of this, it is morally irresponsible to support art awards ceremonies.

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So sure, watch the Grammys, watch the Oscars, watch the Tonys, but know that these awards are skewed. Awards ceremonies are a farce and, worse than that, they are pointless.

Feminism Meets Pop Culture

By Brianna Lanham Featured image

It’s no secret that the fight for feminism and complete equal rights for both female and male genders has progressively blown up like a balloon. Since before women’s suffrage, the right for women to function equally as men do throughout society has specifically impacted the work force in an exceeding manner.

Beginning in New Zealand in 1893 (I always knew I liked you guys), the right to vote became a reality for women for the first time. Therefore, politics began to shift in a manner that the nations had not witnessed before. On top of all the political and economic reconstruction, the right to speak out, have an opinion, and by golly! to even show a little skin (hence why we don’t where long skirts and cuffs anymore, ladies) became a reality. Outside of the more noticeable aspects of change, feminism has carried into cultures globally the transformation and acceptance of women’s roles in the entertainment industry. They pose as a major phenomenon in society: and here’s why.

For all of you “Netflixers,” (men, don’t pretend you don’t watch Friends religiously like the rest of us) the feminist movement has broadened the creativity levels and range of possibilities for drama and plot in any television broadcast. Let’s face it: without major female leading roles in modern day pop culture, such as Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games series, or even classic romance films like Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, the publicity and excitable fandom that seems to obsess viewers today just wouldn’t be the same. Can you imagine what the 1998 Disney film Mulan would be like if the leading character were male instead of female? The entire essence of originality, historical significance and controversy that revolutionized the lovable and fierce Disney princess would be lost. Rebellion, in the eyes of a democratic society, seems to be the emphasis most of the population in a liberal uprising of generations are leaning toward.

As economic and political values shift over the course of decades, the entertainment industry truly has no option but to conform. In other words, our culture demands strong female roles to lead and conquer on the big screen. While most leading protagonists in cartoons throughout the 90’s revolved around a male character, more and more female characters are rising up both on and off the screen. From Hilary Duff in her first leading television series Lizzie McGuire, to Miley Cyrus in the Disney Channel television series Hannah Montana, the media interest in female role models for young girls, and even for woman as a whole, began to seemingly increase and climax.

As the teenage actresses grew up, so did feminism. Miley Cyrus considers herself a feminist, posing as a sexual role model and publicly engaging in electric, sexual interactions with her close friends, stage crew and fans. Her image displays a personalized depiction of liberation through her body and seductive exploitation as she rolls across the stage during performances. Her iconic "tongue" blew up in tabloids and was later considered a personal favorite to fans. Some may view this as taboo, seeing as how the somewhat kinky and raw sexual associations Cyrus encourages have posed as a rebellious advocate for equality and freedom of bondage in judgement. As we all age, the fad is becoming less about which Powerpuff Girl you want to be and more about which celebrity-songwriter you support.

With that being said, pop culture seems to primarily focus on a single component: sex. Sexualization of women is a social justification that once was ignored but now seems to have latched onto any respectable female role in the entertainment industry. Take Ellen DeGeneres for example. In 1997, DeGeneres came out as a lesbian. On top of being highly idolized for her courage and somewhat scandalous confession, her show began to mimic her reputation. As the general population began to notice more of her ideals and her boldness to express them despite conservative and classical American values, her vulnerability and eccentric personality hit big numbers with her viewers in her TV talk show, The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Similarly, television series that support “real life” scenarios of sexual female interactions and support of their bodies tend to demand higher viewers. The Netflix series Orange Is The New Black stars Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman, a woman in her thirties who is sentenced to 15 years in a women's prison for a decade-old crime. The show outlines various dramatic and explicit relations between characters interacting in both sexual and physical ways. While some may argue the explicit language and actions the female characters partake in inside the prison are unrealistic and overproduced, the point is this: male officers failing to make female prisoners follow the rules make for VERY high viewer rates.

If it weren’t for the entertainment industry and the contributions of political and social figures across the nation, the severity and combat for equality of all sexes would be at a loss. As queen Beyoncé says in her hit single, Flawless, “Feminist: a person that believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”