Despite an industry-wide awareness of tremendous change in present-day music delivery to consumers as compared to even five years ago, the entity known simply as The Recording Academy® produced and delivered an awards program that caused many to wish they had “those three hours” back. The extensive hype before, and even during, the Feb. 15 broadcast of the 58th Annual Grammy Awards® represented multiple missed opportunities to honor, remember, and reflect truly gifted artists in a form and fashion that would indicate remembrance, respect, and regard for their decades of contributions to recorded music and live concerts.
Who was left out? Maurice White’s tribute was virtually nonexistent, Natalie Cole got ‘a mention’ but no genuine tribute, William Guest got no real mention, and Philip (P.F.) Sloan wasn’t even on the radar screen, yet Lemmy Kilmister was honored by Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp, the latter of whom was asked to perform with the Hollywood Vampires either for his depths of musical talent or his key talent in applying eyeliner.
In the past year since the last annual disastrous broadcast of what producer Ken Ehrlich thinks should please everyone, the music industry has lost a number of relevant artists, whose lifelong dedication to and production of music worth owning and preserving is indeed important. It just seems to be a giant unspoken fear of spending more than a passing glance to honor those icons, particularly those who are not White, for reasons unknown to any clear-thinking music lover.
Let’s examine the path by which The Recording Academy® told the world, via media releases, what was uppermost in their minds and thoughts on how they saw the annual awards show coming together, Over the past few months, on behalf of The Recording Academy®, under President/CEO Neil Portnow’s signature, issued statements via press releases for the following:
Dec. 26, 2015, William Guest, described as “integral to Gladys Knight and the Pips, CEO of Crew Records,” named as “gifted and cherished artist.”
Dec. 28, 2015, Lemmy Kilmister, “remarkable frontman and bona fide heavy metal icon, founding member of group Motörhead,” described as “one of the most prominent figures in rock and roll, with magnetic stage presence and willingness to break barriers.”
Jan. 1, 2016, Natalie Cole, a nine-time GRAMMY winner and MusiCares Person of the Year honoree in 1993, described as “a wonderful, highly cherished artist and… exceptional talent.”
Jan. 6, 2016, Pierre Boulez, a “remarkable talent as a classical composer, conductor and deep thinker about music…with 26 GRAMMYs®, he is among the most recognized artists by GRAMMY® voters, proponent of new music in both his composition and as a conductor.” In 2015, he’d “received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy®.”
Jan. 8, 2016, the Academy revealed the 2016 Grammy Nominees album track listing. The artists included: Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5, Florence + The Machine, Alabama Shakes, D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Kendrick Lamar, Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town, Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, Meghan Trainor, Tori Kelly, Sam Hunt, James Bay, Courtney Barnett, Carrie Underwood, Cam, Lee Ann Womack, and Keith Urban. Then you can reflect on whose performances you saw “live” last night on the broadcast. See what they did there?
Jan. 11, 2016, David Bowie, a GRAMMY® Award Winner and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, “remembered and celebrated today for his audacious approach to pushing creative boundaries and ability to reinvent himself time and time again, changing the course of pop music in the process.”
Jan. 13, 2016, News Release re those named to receive The Recording Academy® Lifetime Achievement Award include: Ruth Brown, Celia Cruz, Earth, Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, Jefferson Airplane, Linda Ronstadt, and Run DMC.
One month prior to the awards show, the Academy formally announced the launch of its month-long ad campaign (as if that was needed), with a trademarked phrase “Witness Greatness.” So, The Recording Academy® hired TBWAChiatDay to hype “’Witness Greatness’ Celebrates the Magnetism of Music’s Biggest Night®.” One could remind the academy that there are third-world nations who have no registered trademarks to their names and that the overuse of trademark symbols represents reckless waste and mocks the ability of simple adjectives and themes to stand alone on merit, rather than trademarked hype. That notwithstanding…on with the show.
Jan. 18, 2016, Glenn Frey, “integral part of one of the most storied bands in pop history,” six GRAMMY Awards for The Eagles, “Desperado” and “Hotel California” album inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame.”
Jan. 28, 2016, embargoed media alert for Feb. 13, performers to honor Lionel Richie, MusiCares Person of the Year, include Yolanda Adams, Leon Bridges, Ellie Goulding, Dave Grohl, Rihanna, Chris Stapleton and Florence Welch with Jimmy Kimmel announced as host of Richie tribute.
Jan. 28, 2016, Paul Kantner, “folk/rock giant and integral part of the 1960s rock scene, founding member of Jefferson Airplane, who are receiving our Lifetime Achievement Award this year…a key architect in the development of what became known as the San Francisco Sound.”
Jan. 28, 2016, Academy announced “Music’s Biggest Night® ¬—Hosted by LL Cool J — Airs Live on CBS, Feb. 15, 2016” would have six-time GRAMMY winner and current nominee Lady Gaga, present “an experiential tribute performed by one of his biggest fans…a multisensory testament to the icon’s incredible artistry and a reflection of his limitless creativity.”
Feb. 4, 2016, Maurice White, seven-time GRAMMY® Award winner, founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire, who are receiving our Lifetime Achievement Award this year.” Considered “the guiding force behind the group’s success,” with “unerring instincts as a musician and showman that helped propel the band to international stardom, influencing countless fellow musicians in the process.”
Feb. 9, 2016, added “Luke Bryan, John Legend, Demi Lovato and Meghan Trainor to perform star-studded tribute to MusiCares Person of the Year Lionel Richie.”
Feb. 10, 2016, “Eagles Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh to pay tribute to Glenn Frey with Jackson Browne,” with just five days out of the awards broadcast, room was made to add one song to the program for Glenn Frey.
Feb. 11, 2016, final list of performers released for the live show, named a “stellar lineup of more than 30 artists,” adding Taylor Swift, Alabama Shakes, Joey Alexander, and Miguel, to the previous list of Adele, Travis Barker, James Bay, Justin Bieber, Jackson Browne, Luke Bryan, Gary Clark, Jr., Andra Day, Diplo, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Timothy B. Schmit, and Joe Walsh of The Eagles, Ellie Goulding, the cast of “Hamilton,” Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, and Joe Perry of The Hollywood Vampires, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, Little Big Town, Demi Lovato, Pitbull, Bonnie Raitt, Rihanna, Skrillex, Chris Stapleton, Robin Thicke, Meghan Trainor, Carrie Underwood, and The Weend.
The 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards have three people as primary creative forces: AEG Ehrlich Ventures (Ken Ehrlich is both executive producer and writer; Louis J. Horvitz is director and David Wild is also a writer.” Three people essentially controlled what you saw (or failed to see) on last night’s broadcast.
What did the audience see? Aside from multiple shots of Clive Davis standing like Stonehenge and clapping so someone would hopefully see him, and a few side shots of honoree Irving Azoff smiling, and Neil Portnow taking the stage to explain how the artists got only a fraction of a penny every time their songs are played. Pretty poignant considering the multimillion-dollar salaries that have accrued to Portnow, Davis, and Azoff on the backs of Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, Dan Fogelberg, and some of the artists on last night’s lineup, over the years, and yet, it is incomprehensible how little time was devoted to career musicians whose music has endured solidly for decades, where creativity flourished and trends were set simply based on the quality of the audio product.
No pyrotechnics, no eyeliner, and little if any hoopla was requisite to convince the masses about aural beauty and magnificence of what audiences had heard upon playing their favorite vinyl, reel-to-reel, 8 track, cassette, CDs and even digital downloads, because the music spoke for itself. The artists who crafted the beauty of the melodies and harmonies with their voices, like Glenn Frey and The Eagles know that.
Maurice White laid down a groove and introduced a quality of performance with his band and band family that has been beloved for at least four decades. If anyone had any questions, they should review the robust ticket sales and sold-out audiences for EWF with the band Chicago, who just this year are being given the gatekeeper’s permission for the elusive Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, not to be confused with The Recording Academy®.
There did manage to be plenty of time to add folks to the living Lionel Richie’s tribute who have little to nothing to do with performing music remotely related to Mr. Richie’s style, but no tribute for Maurice White or performance by Earth, Wind & Fire, receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award. One saving grace was seeing and hearing from Bonnie Raitt and Gary Clark, Jr., among the confusing cacophony of many artists whose talents simply don’t match their buildup hype.
In fact no time for any music by or to salute Linda Ronstadt or Jefferson Airplane either, and given that they’ve devoted their entire careers to making music for the masses, the inequity between seeing nothing more than 4 frames of the Lifetime Achievement winners, except for Lionel Richie’s group of no- and low-talents who were up there pretending to understand his music.
One bright exception is saved for John Legend, who brings quality to whatever he’s singing, but even he seemed to have a look on his face like “what is it again that these other people on stage are doing here?” Then they bring up Lionel and one young whippersnapper seems to want to help his “elder” up the steps when Richie doesn’t need the help? “Camera 3 move away fast, fast, fast, oh, it’s too late, you caught it,” could have been what was being yelled into the earpiece.
Natalie Cole is and was relevant and valuable as an artist as recently as even two and a half years ago, as she was a three-time Latin GRAMMY nomination (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album) for “Natalie Cole en Español.” She was also a distinguished R&B and jazz vocalist, who 40 years ago, won two GRAMMYs® for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, earned six more GRAMMYs® for “Unforgettable…With Love.” This album only sold 14,000,000 copies and yet, after just even this body of work and nothing beyond it, was deemed not to merit a tribute on this year’s awards show. Instead, Lemmy Kilmister got a multimedia send-off or send-up. Ms. Cole’s family this morning has made their own statement regarding the lack of a musical tribute to her in Entertainment Weekly.
There’s a precipitous need to adapt to changes in the industry, particularly when it comes to awards shows and adapting the content to reflect current events, such as the passing of iconic musicians to make sure they are included.
And true, there’s a careful need to balance the old and the new in presenting music to entertain an entire nation of viewers. The demographics of the audience are not easily discernible but chances are better than even that a majority of the viewers would have appreciated a decent tribute to Natalie Cole, as well as a decent and appropriate tribute to Maurice White. There was plenty of time to honor both, had they cut Robin Thicke and his pointed boots and self-satisfying smirk from contributing anything to the airtime.
Therefore, one must make note of the fact that two artists of color were not included appropriately or substantively in this year’s awards program, despite the fact that plenty of time was available to plan for same. The litany of press releases issued by The Recording Academy® shows precisely how each decision was made and announcement was planned. There’s really no excuse, no back door, and it’s both incomprehensible and disrespectful to the music industry to have allowed this to happen.
Even in honoring Lionel Richie, was John Legend the only Black artist available to pay him tribute? Who thought up bringing in Luke Bryan, Demi Lovato, and Meghan Trainor for Lionel Richie songs? That’s as patently biased as it is absurd. What R&B hits or Top 40 Adult Listening hits does that previously named trio have in their catalog of heartfelt love songs? The answer is obvious: not one. And yet, consumers are supposed to accept the pablum dished out to sell “The Recording Academy® will unite four artists across the country, pop, and R&B communities to salute four-time GRAMMY® winner Lionel Richie…” The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Lady Gaga’s salute to David Bowie deserves a mention as well. How out of touch or out of their minds the producers were in deciding on that artist to pay tribute to Bowie is anyone’s guess. David Bowie transformed his personal look, along with his music, over the decades, but he remained steadfast in each look until he was prepared to assume another look. Lady Gaga is a quick-change artist in costume warehouses and she sings some too, so they proclaim.
Just six weeks ago we saw Ms. Germanotta sporting a green cape and Audrey Hepburn-like persona to sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” with Tony Bennett to sell music out of Barnes & Noble stores for the holidays. Then for the CBS-produced Super Bowl 50, the red-white-and-blue decked out Ms. Germanotta sang the national anthem and everyone oohed and aahed over the fact that she didn’t pull a “Roseanne Barr” and managed to hit the high notes as well.
Then last night’s tribute to Bowie fell as “flat as a flitter” (as they say in the South) as a person imitating an artist paid no tribute at all to an artist who created art in visual as well as aural media. It wasn’t all that long ago that this dramatic drop-out of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts thought herself ready for prime time in 2008 and along the way donned a meat cape and other buffoonery to draw attention to herself. Bowie drew attention to his music, one could say, in stark contrast. It was just a mess. It’s not just my opinion. Entertainment Weekly also notes this morning that David Bowie’s son called out Ms. Germanotta on Twitter following her “tribute.”
Overexcited or irrational, typically as a result of infatuation or excessive enthusiasm; mentally confused.” Damn it! What IS that word!?” was Duncan Jones tweet, and he said it better than anyone about how much Ms. Germanotta missed the mark in saluting his father.
Audiences and reviews are likely all mixed today in terms of winners and losers for the “music industry’s biggest night of the year,” but the real losers are those who had hoped to see some of their favorite classic music entertainers beloved for decades paid proper tribute to for at least one moment in time because they are, to many of us, unforgettable.
What was forgettable was the combination of Beyonce with a group of dancers who looked like they let everyone in lockup at the 22nd precinct appear on stage without their poles. Thinking about the song selections or career choices the dancers and Beyonce could have made, would it not have been nice if Beyonce could have put on a dress and sung “Unforgettable”? She paid tribute to Whitney Houston appropriately, so that’s not too much to ask.
Sadly, the industry’s television program continues to show its irrelevance, bad decisions, poor choices, and flagrant omissions and classic missteps in even beginning to understand what timeless musicians have graced our present and who should be given the most honor and tribute of all. Classic fail, The Grammys broadcast, epic fail. Time to reboot, and when you do, please take Ryan Seacrest and James Corden with you as they really won’t be missed.