Ranting on the Grammy Awards

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I have always hated the Grammys.

I hate how the nominees for Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year always seem to be reflections of the Top 40 charts. I hate that Lou Reed, the Band, Talking Heads, Notorious B.I.G., Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Tupac Shakur, The Who, Run DMC, Bob Marley, Nas and Janis Joplin never won a Grammy for their music. I hate that Baha Men and Taylor Swift did. I hate how musicians are forced to engage in awkward, unpleasant collaborative performances. I hate watching Paul McCartney stand in as a glorified prop as Kanye West and Rihanna perform “FourFiveSeconds.”

But I love the Oscars — for the most part. I don’t think the Oscars are perfect. In all honesty, I almost never agree with the awards given. But I appreciate the fact that they encourage people to go out and watch beautiful, innovative and controversial films that would otherwise go ignored. I like how unknown indie films, short films and foreign films are given the chance to shine in front of more than 40 million viewers.

So why do the Grammys fail where the Oscars shine? Why does an organization that aims to “honor excellence in the recording arts and sciences” and claims to award “artists and technical professionals for artistic or technical achievement” — not sales or chart positions — seem to do the exact opposite of its supposed intentions? Why do the Oscars generally have more than 15 million more viewers than the Grammys?

These are difficult questions to tackle. Maybe the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences simply does a better job of choosing nominees and award winners than the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences does. Maybe the producers of the Oscars simply organize a more entertaining event than the producers of the Grammys.

But these are merely simple solutions. I believe that the true answer to all of these questions is deeply seated in the different ways that we experience and react to music and film. When we see a film, we sit in a grand theater with 50 others. Or we comfortably lounge in couches and chairs with family and friends. It’s a shared experience. We watch great films to understand the lives of others. We watch films to experience empathy.

The late film critic Roger Ebert once said, “Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.”

This is why we are so easily able to watch and enjoy a ceremony honoring great films. The Oscars allow us to collectively celebrate a shared experience. They allow us to honor the pieces of art that generate so much empathy and embody universal sentiments.

When we listen to music, however, we often isolate ourselves. We lay in a bed alone and are left to our own thoughts and emotions. Music touches on personal experiences and sentiments in a way that visual entertainment never could. Music brings back deep memories of our own loves, hates and regrets. A great song can transport us to another period of our lives. Music is the most powerful machine of personal emotion in all the arts.

Herein lies the reason that I hate the Grammys. Because music is so emotional and individually experiential, we struggle to agree with a ceremony that attempts to honor great music. Just as film is essential to understanding a collective experience and the lives of others, music is essential to understanding our own feelings. And, arguably, no ceremony can successfully celebrate something so personal.


Contact Jeremy Siegel at [email protected].