Nearly everyone at home watching the Grammy Awards last night was expecting the Album of the Year award to go to someone who goes by one name that starts with B. The Academy had the same idea, except not quite.
Here’s a quick recap. Beyoncé’s song Drunk in Love featuring Jay-Z racked up Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song awards, and her self-titled album won Best Surround Sound Album (meaning that the recording has a minimum of four channels and is commercially available in surround-sound quality. Since she is listed as the surround mastering engineer, the award goes to her as well as the rest of her engineering/production team). Beck’s album Morning Phase scored awards for Album of the Year, Best Rock Album, and Best Non-Classical Engineered Album (for the latter, Beck himself did not technically win the award as he was not listed as an engineer or producer on the album, and it went to his engineering/production team).
So, technically Beyoncé won more awards (3) than Beck (2), and people are still launching batches of caps-lock tweets declaring how unjust the world is because Queen B didn’t win Album of the Year. Okay, Beyoncé deserved it, but so did Beck, and it’s just an awards show. Both are incredibly hard-working, classy, talented artists who each made spectacular albums and gave incredible performances. To them, that is rewarding enough in itself.
Morning Phase, though I’ll admit I haven’t listened to one or two tracks, is an impressive continuation of the 2002 release, Sea Change. The grandiose, swallowing strings on the album are what makes it stand out, and they add a certain melancholy depth that is awfully satisfying. I’m not going to delve into it all right now, but the album artwork above has a link to the Rolling Stone review that does a nice job.
Right now, let’s take a look at the factors of why Beck Hansen walked away victorious in arguably the most important category of music’s biggest awards show, and why Beyoncé had to settle with her three trophies.
The most obvious answer is advertising. Morning Phase was put out by Capitol Records (the first Beck release to their name, as he left Interscope DCG at the end of his contract). Since he hadn’t put out a record in over five years, Capitol had a decidedly valid reason to push this new LP through a healthy dose of marketing. Hansen popped in for publicity on virtually every talk show, and his people got Blue Moon to play everywhere they could. The hype leading up to the February 2014 release was loud. Already an indie-dad staple thanks to prior hits Loser and Where It’s At, nobody really has to push Beck to appeal to multiple generations; he just does. The real advertising did not hit until Morning Phase actually hit the shelves, digitally and physically. One example: raise your hand if you use Spotify regularly, and the Morning Phase ads made you actually want to pay for the premium service for a split second each time because you were so damn sick of hearing the same thing every commercial break. If you are a Spotify person, your hand is up.
Beyoncé was put out in December of 2013 by Columbia, distributed by Sony BMG. It was re-released in 2014 in an extended edition. Long story short, it was an illusion of “no publicity.” Dropping unannounced on iTunes in the middle of the night, the album was a publicity stunt in itself. There was no hype leading up to it, but it further solidified Beyoncé as the queen of the recording industry. Right after, she was caught up in a whirlwind of promotion. The staggering chart positions and heavy radio rotation of its singles were the best possible type of advertising that the album could possibly have gotten. The self-titled undertaking had five singles as opposed to Morning Phase‘s two. With Super Bowl and White House performances in addition to a career spanning just as long as Beck’s under her belt, she was already a booming, highly influential commercial mogul, much more so than Beck, who gives off a way more understated vibe, and certainly has not sold nearly as much.
It was the type of advertising that essentially caused Morning Phase to beat out Beyoncé. The words look ugly, but it’s the truth in these awards shows. The Academy loves a comeback artist in this category, just Google the list of previous recipients. They also were more likely to see Beck more often. Although Beyoncé showed up at higher-scale events, Beck was often splashed across their television screens in daily life, or popping up as pretty, artsy ads on their computer screens while they read the morning news. His album was portrayed as artwork for multiple generations while Beyoncé’s was presented as a bundle of hits for the young party crowd. It subconsciously swayed the voters just enough to settle on one of the equally-well-made albums over the other.
Of course, there were more than two nominees in the category, and more factors to the decision. The truth is, the other contenders in the race for Album of the Year don’t quite match up to the two that I’ve been raving about in this post. Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, and Pharell simply did not make albums that possess the necessary star power. Sorry, guys.
Not to get sidetracked or anything, but Beck is humble and probably cooler than most of the people that were around him in the Staples Center combined. I was not planning on mentioning the K-name and his little joke last night, but when doing some research, I found some evidence of Beck’s class and grace after the incident and what followed. The headlines below say it all. (Click through to read the articles!)
In regards to that, all there is left to say is that Beck is so cool that Kanye is a little chilly and probably needs a sweater.
The only eyebrow-raising thing that Mr. Album of the Year 2k15 has been involved in (that I can remember) is the Church of Scientology. I can deal with that, I suppose. As long as he continues making great music.
In the end, all that really matters is not what the music means to the majority, but what it means to each of us personally. That’s what artistry is all about, and it’s important to respect that and take a step back from the television with your eyes closed for a moment, if that’s what it takes to remember. Once you recall what the music is all about, it’s just as essential that you open those eyes right back up, because the industry is a predictable yet unpredictable glamour-bomb, and it is right before you, begging for your full and undivided attention with unimaginable things and an ever-promising future that is looming so near with incredible depths that will be waiting for you to dive into.
STAY LOVELY, READERS