The Grammys golden opportunity

Mark Matousek

Courtesy of Dave Gold

With an album of the year nomination for “Channel Orange,” Frank Ocean may be the latest valid Grammy winner in the award show’s recent resurgence.

The Grammys are an annual exercise in frustration and wasted potential. While a considerable amount of excellent music is released each year, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences chooses to recognize a frighteningly small amount of it, opting instead to pat undeserving industry stars on the back for their continued dominance of the Billboard charts. The Album of the Year category in particular is an abyss of sonic waste, propped up each year by a token prestige nominee. In recent years, Kanye West, Radiohead and Arcade Fire have faced the likes of The Black Eyed Peas and Katy Perry, presenting an absurd dichotomy between the best and worst music has to offer.

Thankfully, the past two years have brought a much-needed shift in the priorities of Grammy voters. Where they used to specialize in honoring classic rock has-beens and vapid pop stars, they are starting to recognize culturally relevant risk-takers, beginning with Arcade Fire’s stunning Album of the Year upset in 2011. Seen by many as an underdog lucky to sneak into a celebrity-heavy field, Arcade Fire prevailed in what many hoped would mark a new era in the history of this oft-maligned ceremony. Last year brought another pleasant surprise in Bon Iver’s triumph over Nicki Minaj and Skrillex in the Best New Artist category, a rare victory for craftsmanship over album sales.

The upward trend continued this year, producing arguably the strongest Album of the Year field of the past decade as The Black Keys, fun., Mumford & Sons, Jack White and Frank Ocean will vie for the golden gramophone on Sunday. While Ocean’s “Channel Orange” isn’t my favorite album released during the Grammys asinine eligibility period (beginning Oct. 1, 2011 and ending Sept. 30, 2012), its cinematic scope and devastating emotional honesty make it more than deserving of the award. Sure, “El Camino” (The Black Keys) may be slightly more consistent, but it doesn’t take the same risks or approach the same heights of Ocean’s major-label debut. Provided Grammy voters choose wisely, this year could turn the potential anomalies of the past two years into a burgeoning trend.

Many pundits have written off Ocean in favor of Mumford & Sons, whose safe, radio-ready sound is better suited to Grammy voters than Ocean’s highly personal sonic tapestries. But I’m holding out hope that Ocean will win because I can’t bear the thought of those gratingly earnest Englishmen and their ridiculous old-timey wardrobes gracing the stage at the Staples Center. And because the symbolic implications of a Mumford & Sons victory would be too much for me to handle—a relentlessly risk-averse group besting one of the most courageous songwriters of our generation.

While some will dismiss this year’s ceremony as a charade regardless of the outcome, a big night for Ocean could mark the turning point in the Grammys’ transformation from bloated embarrassment to semi-respectable institution. The pressure’s on, Grammy voters. Don’t screw this up.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.