I Sez: A Great Moment in Grammy History
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 11, 2008
Flash back to some of the more incredulous award show wins in recent memory. Crash beating Brokeback Mountain for the Best Picture Oscar. James Spader beating James Gandolfini for the Best Actor Emmy. Panic! At the Disco beating a bunch of slightly less shitty nominees for the Video of the Year VMA. Well, next to this one, these all seem like choices as inspired as Three 6 Mafia winning three Best Song Oscars in a row (with a couple Best Supporting Actor grabs to boot). This is history, people.
OK, so maybe you didn’t watch the Grammys tonight. More likely, you were tempted, maybe even flipped to it a couple times, but ultimately your conscience and sense of good judgement got the better of you (or you just wanted to watch American Gladiators, whatever). Truth told, the Grammys are generally not worth watching–I’ve learned this the hard way time and time again, but usually the Grammys aren’t even entertainingly pitiful enough to be worth watching. They’re a half-hour of worthwhile performances and worthwhiler LOLs stretched thinly around a few hours of self-congratulatory scruff and painfully humiliating public displays of musicality.
But if you’re lucky, if you catch it on a good year, when the moon is in the 7th house or some such, you might get one moment so baffling, so unbelievably contradictory, so debasing to common sense that it keeps you wondering if maybe you should still watch it the next year. And that’s why, if we are prescient in such matters, we don’t root for the critical favorite, and we don’t question why Ray Charles continues to win more of these bad boys from beyond the grave than Kanye West ever will in his lifetime. Rather, we hope and pray for the most unstable artists to perform, and for the most inexplicable artists to take home the gold. We watch for those moments of infamy.
There was one this year–oh dear lord, was there one this year. And I almost missed it too–flipping around on TV I missed the list of nominations, and even missed what category was being awarded. But I heard those magic words:
“HERBIE HANCOCK – RIVER: THE JONI LETTERS!”
The Record of the Year had just been announced. I looked at the clock and noticed that the show’s airtime was running out. I knew it had been nominated. Could it be? Could Herbie Hancock have just won the 2008 Album of the Year Grammy?
The speculation had been abound as to who would take home top honors. Kanye was the favorite going in, but Amy Winehouse had taken home Best New Artist, Song of the Year and Record of the Year, and looked to be in position to sweep the Big Four. Plus, the Foos had just performed and had already won Best Rock Album. Yeah, sure, some of us joked about how if we knew our Grammy history, the award would probably go to Herbie Hancock or something, but…c’mon. No one’s actually gonna give a jazz pianist, who’s twenty years past his commercial prime and thirty years past his critical prime, who recorded a cover album of a female singer/songwriter’s songs that absolutely nobody talked about, who hadn’t even had a movie made about him recently–NO ONE’S ACTUALLY GONNA GIVE HIM THE FUCKING BEST ALBUM GRAMMY???!?!?
I laughed. I laughed until I cried tears of joy. Because this was the apotheosis. This was as good as the Grammys were ever going to get. Put this one up against a clip of Sawdust & Mildew winning Best Picture at the Oscars in Naked Gun 33 1/3, and ask someone who didn’t know award history which one was the fictional scene, and I can’t imagine how they’d choose. How could you even believe this wasn’t totally intentional? How could you not believe that the Grammy Election Committee didn’t look at their sagging ratings from recent years, say to themselves “all right, well I guess the only people that still watch only watch us hoping some ridiculous shit goes down,” and decide to stuff the Best Album envelope with the most hilarious choice possible? Sly Stone playing at the ’06 Grammys with a green mohawk, acting like a crazy person and fleeing the stage halfway through the performance? NOTHING on this.
In a world where even our supposedly most esteemed tastemakers can’t be trusted, in a world where the phrase “Credible Award Show” rings about as true as “Credible Celebrity Dating Show” and “Credible Carlos Mencia Special”–this is why we still watch celebrities hand out symbolic statues to other celebrities. This, paradoxically, is how the Grammys stay relevant.