The Grammys serve two purposes:
(a) They’re designed to pump life into post-Christmas sales for 2013 releases before the industry gets going on the new year. Watch for the phrase “Grammy bump” to appear in stories about music sales over the next ten days.
(b) It’s a TV show crafted with a mainstream audience in mind–the kind of audience that still buys records. (It’ll be interesting to see how the Grammys/Junos/Brits evolve as more and more of us adopt streaming music services.)
Occasionally, things get weird and a deserving artist actually wins a big award (cf. Arcade Fire’s left-field win for Album of the Year in 2011, the same year that Esmeralda Spalding won for Best New Artist.) Mostly, though, the Grammys are a populist thing. For example:
- The Baha Men won a Grammy in 2001 for “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
- Christopher Cross’ debut record beat out Pink Floyd’s The Wall in 1980.
- The Beatles won five just Grammys while they were together, which is just two more than Weird Al Yankovic. Going into tonight, Jay Z and Beyonce have 34 between them.
- Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley never won Grammys (Lifetime Achievement Awards don’t count).
- As much as Kanye carps about not getting respected, he has 21 Grammys and a total of 53 nominations going into tonight.
I could go on, but you get the idea. So how can this happen? This infographic explains the process. (Go here for a better look.)
With 12,000 people eligible to vote, you’d think that this would be a pretty democratic process, right? Nope. First, a lot of voters have no clue, meaning that they tend to default towards the familiar (cf. nominations from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin et al). Then there’s a secret group with veto power that was convened to make sure that there are no voting “mistakes.”
That explains a lot of what happened last night, doesn’t it?