An Open Letter to Neil Portnow, NARAS and the Grammy Awards and some guy named Steve Stoute
Mr. Stoute, I’ve never met you nor ever heard of you before last Sunday. I’m sure that you’re a very nice person with the best of intentions. I haven’t purchase an ad in any edition of the New York Times. I can’t afford it, but I’m glad that someone in the music industry can.
However after reading your letter in the Sunday New York Times, I think that you may have to go back to school. Your impassioned defense of Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Eminem, accusations of NARAS members’ collective pop culture ignorance and intimations of chicanery may be misguided or at the very least uninformed.
To begin with, the NARAS membership is very conservative. In fact, NARAS itself has always been a fairly uptight organization. Sort of like the Republican Party of the music business. They’re just, for the most part, old. The members have favorites who they like to see win. They’re certainly aware of cutting edge artists, otherwise Lady Gaga, Eminem, Jay-Z and many others would never have been nominated in the first place.
NARAS is famous for periodically botching the awards. If you think that the “snubs” of Bieber, Em and Kanye are so outrageous, let me take you for a little walk down memory lane.
In 1992, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit lost the Grammy for Best Rock Song to Eric Clapton’s unplugged and slowed-down version of Layla. Hey, I love Clapton and Layla, but this version doesn’t exactly rock. In 1978 Elvis Costello lost out as Best New Artists to A Taste of Honey, who rode to victory on the back of their timeless hit Boogie Oogie Oogie. Any idea where those girls are today? We sure know where Elvis is. In 1991 Public Enemy received a nomination for Best Rap Performance but lost out to future scientologist and obnoxious parent Fresh Prince. In 1966 Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles), Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys), Last Train To Clarksville (The Monkees), Monday Monday (The Mamas and the Papas) all lost the Grammy for Best Rock & Roll Recording to…Winchester Cathedral by The New Vaudeville Band. And of course the classic screw up that is still talked about was in 1988 when Metallica lost Best Metal Performance to Jethro Tull. Granted NARAS members aren’t the hippest, but they have made efforts to avoid those gaffes in the future, even if not always successful.
Frankly I would have been more upset if Bieber had won Best New Artist. The little snot is irritating. I doubt that anybody will be humming along to Eenie Meenie 10 or 20 years from now. You’ll probably not be hearing Michael Buble, Bono or Eric Clapton singing Kanye’s immortal lyric “Let’s have a toast for the douche bags”. I happen to really like Eminem but the Grammys are like the Oscars in many ways. In 1970 John Wayne won the Oscar for Best Actor in True Grit. It wasn’t a great performance. He was just being John Wayne. He won for his body of work. So consider Eminem to be a 21st century John Wayne. He’ll have his day…and by the way, none of these guys are on food stamps.
Let me remind you that many of the guys who made it possible for Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Eminem to be heard today never had the opportunity to win Grammys for their greatest recordings like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino (though they were all later honored with honorary awards; much later). Likewise The Who, Bob Marley, Diana Ross, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Buddy Holly, none of whom ever won a Grammy.
As far as the telecast itself goes, Ken Ehrlich’s job is to put on the best show he can that features a wide array of musical performances, all in an effort to showcase the best that music has to offer for the previous year. He picks the talent from the list of nominees and of course he wants the hottest acts. He’s in the ratings business and if the Grammy telecast doesn’t get ratings the network geeks will drop the show and then you won’t have anything to get pissed about. And that would be a shame. Don’t forget that for the recording artists who perform, it’s a two-way street. Mumford & Sons, who did not win an award, got a huge sales boost immediately after their show-stopping performance. The artists benefit from the exposure and more often than not get a sales boost from performing and/or winning an award.
Neil Portnow is a nice man and a real straight arrow. He’s not going to allow any shenanigans that could possibly cast a shadow of doubt over the proceedings. There’s no way that he, Ken Ehrlich or anyone involved in the telecast have advance knowledge of the winners. This ain’t the American Music Awards. The implications of some sort of bizarre Grammy conspiracy sound more like the single bullet theory or a Glen Beck rant.
Now I know that you spent a lot of money in an effort to express yourself. A full-page ad in the Sunday Times can cost anywhere from $15,000 to well over $100,000. I’m willing to bet that you probably got away with the lower figure and maybe even Kanye, Justin and Em all chipped in, but I wonder why someone would waste a lot of dough on something that is ultimately pointless. Can you even remember who won Best New Artist in 2001 or Record of The Year for 2005? Nobody remembers or cares. So I figure that it must be you’re trying to get some attention. Well, I have a little unsolicited advice for you-if you want to piss people off and get attention, you can save a lot of money by doing what I do—get a cheapo blog and shoot your mouth off. That way you could put the money toward something really important…like a Bentley.