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February 12, 2007

Grammy, Schmammy

John Stoehr

We love the Grammy Awards in Georgia. So much so that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent its excellent hip-hop reporter, Sonia Murray, to blog in Los Angeles live from the event Sunday. We have good reason to be excited. Many of last night's winners -- Ludacris, Ciara, Third Day¬ and T.I. -- have ties to the Peach State.

But the record industry hasn't realized how archiac¬ it has become in the wake of new technologies.¬ However stylish it might be, the award show seems almost quaint compared to its former self 20 years ago.

In 1987, bands like Poison were selling millions of copies of hair-metal hokum (remember "Look What the Cat Dragged In"?). The same record today -- featuring that bedroom anthem for the ages, "Unskinny Bop" -- would be lucky to sell a few hundred thousand. Indeed, the standards of being a hit¬ have changed so much that¬ selling a¬ million records would be considered a¬ smash.

Pop music critics have been bemoaning the vanilla flavor of the¬ Grammys for years, but now in the wake of internet downloading (legal and otherwise), in which music is measured in megabytes not physical CDs, the critics have quantifiable evidence to support long-held charges of irrelevance. Fewer and fewer people are buying records. Why then is¬ there so much to-do about the Grammys?

Perhaps it's denial. But it could also be the force of nostalgia. David Marchese, from Salon, reports the Grammys -- that bastion of the young and hip --¬ were headlined by Earth, Wind and Fire, the Police, Lionel Ritchie and the Eagles. The president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences,¬ Neil Portnoy, gushed over his youthful excitement after seeing Elvis perform on TV. He thought, "I want to be a record executive."

Let's see, Elvis has been dead for how long?

The foundation of the record industry was poured during the heyday of Elvis and the Beatles. The industry controlled the artists, the recording technology and the means of distribution. It had a lock on everything and all was good. And when MTV came along, things got even better, as long as the MTV was the gatekeeper in charge of who gets in and for how long.

That's no longer the case and will not be the case again, as Mark Swed notes in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. The irony is that newspapers like the¬ Atlanta Journal-Constitution and my own paper¬ are hoping coverage of the Grammys will attract younger readers. But they are not buying records. Baby boomers are, and they are already reading the papers. Georgia newspapers¬ are rightfully cheery about Georgians being in the national spotlight, but that spotlight won't be there for long. It's just a matter of time.

-- John Stoehr

Posted by John Stoehr at February 12, 2007 9:59 AM

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I'm always half-tempted to unsubscribe from Bob Lefsetz's daily email rants and raves, but I can never quite give the guy's writing up. He manages to produce something at the last moment that makes me say, "YES!"

His Grammy roundup, while more stream-of-consciousness than perhaps my own would be, is one of those 11th hour ranty gems.


My take: the Grammy folks are desperate to feel as if they are relevant, even if it requires self-validation and the chance for some unknown to share the stage with Justin Timberlake.

Think about it: American Idol in the midst of music's greatest night. Telling, much?

Posted by: Victoria at February 12, 2007 5:24 PM