Ah, music award ceremonies. A night where the best acts are pitted against each other to win a much coveted prize – a shiny award, an aesthetic representation of incredible music achievement in the form of a cold, hard slab of metal or glass, marking a pinnacle moment in the musician’s career. Then there’s the drunken acceptance speeches, and of course, the performances, which if you’re Oli Sykes, can result in absolute chaos that’s talked about for weeks afterwards.
Last week, Ghost picked up a Grammy for ‘Best Metal Performance’, winning against the likes of Lamb of God and Slipknot who were nominated for the same category. Generally it’s been viewed as a remarkable achievement and a triumph for metal, that this unusual band has been recognised commercially for their music. However, one can’t help but question if Ghost’s win was because their music is more ‘digestible’ for the mainstream than the other bands in the category, and whether it is also partly down to their aesthetic. Typically, it is the more mainstream acts that scoop up the awards at the Grammys, even in the metal category which is arguably one of the least categorically ‘mainstream’ music strands of the lot (bar Tropical Latin. What’s that all about). Controversially in 2015, Tenacious D won the ‘Best Metal Performance’ category over four absolute metal titans, namely Anthrax, Mastodon, Motorhead and Slipknot. Despite the band’s talent and popularity amongst the rock/metal world, they are definitely not a metal band, so for them to win is evidence that the credibility of the Grammy Awards is questionable.
Taking a look at this year’s winners and nominees for the rock categories, there are so many things wrong with the Grammys from a rock and metal perspective that it is difficult to know where to begin. The fact that singer-songwriter James Bay and Slipknot were both in the category for ‘Best Rock Album’ says it all. Often, the bands and artists that get nominated and win at the Grammys are not representative of the rock and metal community. Let’s take Alabama Shakes as an example this year. A talented bunch of musicians, yes, but they are not what we would generally label as a rock band – they are more of a ‘blues’ group. There are also plenty of bands that released amazing records in 2015, who have gained no recognition at the Grammys whatsoever.
A look back at winners in previous years and we find it’s the same story. Muse are frequent winners – it’s usually a given that they’ll win the category they are nominated for – and then you’ve got the likes of Coldplay and U2 who largely dominate the wins. Perhaps the issue isn’t with the bands themselves then, but the categories. But what defines ‘rock’ anyway? By definition, Coldplay and U2, as much as we’d like to deny it, are ‘rock’ bands. However, you wouldn’t see them featured on MOSH, nor would you see them gracing the pages of the likes of Metal Hammer or Kerrang! (unless it was to take the piss). So is it also to do with the scene and the culture as well then?
With so many hybrid genres and style fusions emerging all the time, genre boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred. The likes of The Qemists for example, could be classified as both a dance and a rock act due to their mix of synths, drum’n’bass and rock guitars. Perhaps then, this is the reason behind the Grammys’ unfathomably ambiguous ‘Best Alternative Album’ category, which has seen the likes of Radiohead, The Black Keys and one-hit wonder Gotye win it in separate years. Clearly, us and the people behind the Grammy Awards have very different ideas about what is considered ‘alternative’ music.
But do rock and metal need the Grammys? We have the Metal Hammer Golden Gods and Kerrang! Awards, which are highly esteemed amongst the rock community. Aside from that, most bands couldn’t give two shits about winning a Grammy, or any award for that matter, as for them, making music isn’t meant to be about winning awards. As Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan quite nicely summarised back in 2002:
I think the Grammys are nothing more than some gigantic promotional machine for the music industry. They cater to a low intellect and they feed the masses. They don’t honor the arts or the artist for what he created. It’s the music business celebrating itself. That’s basically what it’s all about.
Arguably, the Grammy Awards are not entirely a celebration of who put out the best, most exciting and most life-changing music – it’s a bit of a popularity contest. But we won’t debunk Ghost and previous rock and metal winners before them for enjoying their moment; for to win an internationally recognised award like the Grammy is an undeniably incredible achievement.