The best stuff is underground

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The ratings from Sunday night’s Grammy awards are in and the biggest winner seems to be the social networking sites.
CBS said 28.5 million viewers watched the 56th Grammys, which the television network said was the second-largest audience since 1993. The ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles took place in January instead of the usual February date so as not to butt heads in the ratings with the Winter Olympics on NBC. It only had to compete with the repackaged NFL Pro Bowl.
Ratings service Nielsen labeled the event “the biggest social television event of the 2013-14 TV season to date.” Little wonder, as Twitter recorded more than 15.2 million tweets in the Eastern and Central time zones alone during the broadcast. It was tape-delayed on the West Coast, because, CBS contends, more people are at home and able to watch.
People who like to talk about what they’re doing or watching and share it with friends — whether anyone else cares to know or not — drive these pseudo-events called awards shows. I saw Facebook statuses that had nothing to do with the quality (ha!) of modern-day American popular music. It was something on this order: “I wish Taylor Swift would sit her (expletive) down, trying to be all hard and stuff” and “I LOVE PINK! She’s awesome!”
Multiply that kind of interest a few million times and you have a ratings bonanza.
I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy when it comes to music. I like stuff strictly from the days before file sharing, when bands sold albums for playing instruments and people bought physical objects like a CD to enjoy their favorite music. The majority of what makes money these days involves not bands, but vocalists who sound the same to me who sell their offerings on iTunes. Multitalented vocalists are few. When it became too easy to “obtain” music, it then became a little too easy to “create” it. Hence the Biebers, the Spears’, the Cyruses of the world.
The category of Album of the Year is a bellwether for this. This year’s winner was “Random Access Memories” by French electronic music group Daft Punk. Outside of the search engine I used to write that last line, I have no idea who these people are outside of the TV commercial I saw a few times last fall that happened to feature them. Last year’s winner was Mumford & Sons, who the same search tells me they’re an English folk-rock group. Again, no idea.
In 2009, rock legend Robert Plant and bluegrass artist Alison Krauss teamed on “Raising Sand” and won five Grammys that year. Consider that as of then, and including that particular Grammy ceremony, Krauss had 26 of the little gold trophies to her credit — easily the most decorated woman in the awards’ history. Now chew on this: Plant, the frontman of the arguably the most influential hard rock band ever, had but two Grammys to his name before his duo turn with Krauss. And one was merely a lifetime achievement award.
It simply proves that one thing hasn’t changed, from rock’s golden age to this strange time. The best stuff is always underground.

Danny Barrett Jr. is the assistant managing editor. He can be reached by email at

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