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Totally '80s

Posted: February 12, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau, Editor-in-Chief

In four years and change, I've never once in this space written about the Grammys. I'm still not completely convinced they're worth discussing; last Wednesday, when I told my friends and co-workers I might go home and watch some of the awards ceremony, every single one of them said something along the lines of: "I didn't realize the Grammys were on tonight." The Oscars have been having their own problems lately, but whatever people's feelings about the relevance of the awards, it's far more rare to run into someone who isn't aware when they're on and what's up for Best Picture.

To be sure, the Grammys are much more relevant than they were in the not-too-distant days when Natalie Cole (cashing in on her dead father) or Eric Clapton (cashing in on the tragic death of his young son) could clean house to the bored eye-rolls and blank stares of millions. These days, the ceremony does bear some resemblance to what's going on in the real world -- at least we're arguing over whether Kanye West was robbed of Album of the Year (more on that shortly), rather than wondering why Jethro Tull nabbed the Best Hard Rock trophy instead of Metallica.

Still, last Wednesday's ceremony did have an unsettling aura of déjà vu; it was like the 1980s all over again. But this time, we couldn't blame the out-of-touch Grammy voters for nominating the wrong artists. No, with a couple of exceptions, of course, these were the artists -- the mainstream ones, at least -- arguably making the most pop-cultural waves. But didn't it all seem a little too familiar?

Look, ma, there's U2, sweeping the awards with an album steeped in the band's patented earnestness, with Bono, two decades after Live Aid, still advocating for save-the-world causes. Was How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb a better album than Late Registration? Maybe that depends on your skin color. But was it more important? Hell, no. (If Kanye West were to issue a statement tomorrow condemning the Best Rap Album category as the Grammy ghetto that allows voters to keep black artists out of the Best Album limelight, he'd have a strong argument.)

Just who are those freaky-looking buffoons in the horrid clothes? Is that Milli Vanilli? Maybe Color Me Badd? Oh, wait, no, sorry; it's the Black Eyed Peas. (Even worse.) We've even got our own Tiffany (or is it Debbie Gibson?) in the adorable Kelly Clarkson. (Okay, that's a stretch; she's already more famous than the two of them put together ever were, and neither ever recorded a song as great as "Since U Been Gone," which I inexplicably left off my top 10 songs list for 2004.)

This year's Grammys even had not one but two Madonnas: the real thing, once again trying so, so hard to pretend she still matters like she did 20 years ago (am I the only one who finds her new buff bod and workout get-up a little too Olivia Newton-John?); and the arguably even less-bearable Gwen Stefani, who's stuck in her own "Vogue" phase right now; you know Gavin Rossdale's just her Sean Penn, and she'll be moving on to her own Warren Beatty (maybe it'll be Woody Allen) before too long.

Just as the 1970s glorified the '50s, the 1980s adored the '60s and the 1990s gave a knowing nod to the '70s, we seem to be taking all our pop-cultural cues these days from the decade of big hair and Hall & Oates. Hell, there's even a Miami Vice movie coming down the pike this year. Can a new Mr. Mister album be far behind? Maybe a Night Ranger/Loverboy tour while we're at it?

Too bad it's too late for a Milli Vanilli reunion. I'd take those two lip-synching mannequins any day over those pathetic, cretinous fops in the Black Eyed Peas. The very idea that a large segment of the music industry voted to give them a gold statue for anything is beyond insulting. One goes into the Grammys expecting that bad music will carry at least part of the day (Maroon 5, anyone?), but this is -- this is beyond the pale.

Which goes to show that there's something much worse going on at the Grammys than the predictable, cyclical act of a culture looking backwards with nostalgia at a less-enlightened age. After the ceremony, Bono gave a shout-out to the Killers and the Strokes, two newer bands strip-mining the '70s and '80s for inspiration. Really, Bono? Are those the best current rock bands you can think of? Of all the thousands of rock bands in the world? The White Stripes? Queens of the Stone Age? No? The Killers -- over Green Day? (I don't think even the Killers believe that.) How can we expect better from the Grammys when even Bono -- the man many consider to be the coolest rock star on the planet -- displays such extremely questionable musical taste?

It's glaringly obvious that the music-industry establishment is nowhere near as hip as the audience it wants to cater to. No one's expecting to see M.I.A. or the Arcade Fire take home Album of the Year honors anytime soon. But it'd be nice if the folks who vote on the industry's most coveted awards -- to say nothing of the musicians themselves -- could be a little more discriminating. Strip the Black Eyed Peas of their ill-gotten gains and ban them from the Grammys for life -- that'd be a good start. Or at least, somebody, anybody, loan Bono your iPod, fast.

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Archived Editorials
December 03, 2006: Happy Feet
November 22, 2006: Half Decade Anniversary
October 07, 2006: Jessica Simpson
September 30, 2006: New Orleans and SNL
June 2, 2006: Dixie Chicks
May 7, 2006: Are Yahu Serious?
February 16, 2006: Bill O'Reilly & Brokeback Mountain
February 12, 2006: Totally '80s (Grammys)
January 31, 2006: Freyed Oprah
November 27, 2005: To Be Continued... (Bringing back movie serials)
November 21, 2005: Fourth Birthday
November 05, 2005: TV Remakes
August 13, 2005: Ten Commandments of Rock
July 05, 2005: Live 8
May 05, 2005: Term Limits (for Rock Stars)
April 29, 2005: Pearl Jam Redux
January 26, 2005: Oscar Grouching
October 31, 2004: Three More Years!
September 27, 2004: Cleaning Out My Closet
August 25, 2004: Shaking Through Mailbag
June 23, 2004: Summer Reading List
June 11, 2004: World Without Heroes (Bill Murray and Garfield)
April 23, 2004: Sold Out (Bob Dylan, Victoria's Secret, & Iraq)
April 08, 2004: The Day the Music Died (Kurt Cobain)
Mar. 17, 2004: Copping Out
Feb. 27, 2004: The Passion of Howard Stern
Jan. 30, 2004: Sex and the City
Nov. 17, 2003: California Über Alles
Nov. 7, 2003: Not-So-Terrible Twos
Sept. 19, 2003: Magic & Loss (Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon)
Aug. 17, 2003: Those '70s Shows
May 27, 2003: Patriot Games (Darryl Worley)
May 24, 2003: American Idol
Mar. 23, 2003: Non-cents-ical (Dixie Chicks-50 Cent)
Feb. 8, 2003: Where's the Love? (Pearl Jam)
Jan. 1, 2003: High Resolutions
Dec. 16, 2002: All I Want for Christmas
Nov. 27, 2002: Things to be Thankful For
Nov. 8, 2002: Near Wild Heaven (Nirvana)
Oct. 21, 2002: Happy Birthday to Us
Sept. 11, 2002: The Little Things
Aug. 20, 2002: King for a Day
July 9, 2002: Bill of Rights
Apr. 18, 2002: Celebrity Skim
Apr. 15, 2002: We Will Never Lie To You
Jan. 6, 2002: Something to Believe In
Nov. 3, 2001: Who We Are