By no surprise, last night at the AMA awards, Robert Plant took home the Album of the Year Award. But did he earn it?
I live in Los Angeles. So, I’m use to the fact that awards are constantly given out to people on the basis of name recognition rather than talent or merit. And as Woody Allen once remarked on the topic in his 1977 film, Annie Hall, “What’s with all these awards? They’re always giving out awards. Best Fascist Dictator: Adolf Hitler.”
The anomaly there, was that this film resulted in Allen’s first Oscar win when Annie Hall was voted Best Picture. Of course, Allen wasn’t there to accept the award. Rather, he spent the evening at Elaine’s in New York playing Jazz music. Because he really didn’t give a $h1t about winning.
I began my writing career as a film critic for my college newspaper back in Buffalo, NY. It was my job to predict whether a movie or actor would wind up with an Oscar nod or not, even though I was writing from a place that couldn’t have been further away from the politics of Hollywood. And I learned very quickly that who would win was rarely in line with who should win.
In 1966, the Beatles recorded Revolver, Bob Dylan released Blonde on Blonde and Brian Wilson gave us his Beach Boys masterpiece, Pet Sounds. Only one of those albums was nominated for a Grammy the following year and the award for Best Album went to Frank Sinatra for A Man and His Music.
That was the second consecutive year Sinatra would take home that honor. Yet, he didn’t write, play or produce a single song. But his name was Frank Sinatra. And that was what mattered.
What doesn’t matter is whether or not an artist is on the verge of something new and innovative. Instead, awards voters are more concerned with giving accolades to safe choices. They aren’t willing to take a risk in putting their reputation on the line.
Rather, the tendency is to honor someone whose career stands the test of time. Because, what if they take a chance on backing something that turns out to be a flash in the pan? Such a misnomer might negate their credibility. Of course, the great irony is that in abiding by that philosophy, they do just that.
In 1968, the Grammy award for album of the Year went to the Beatles for Sgt. Pepper. Finally (for a brief and fleeting moment), the light went on. But the general rule of thumb for such recognitions is a matter of “too little, too late.” And as much as I hate to say it, even an organization that is suppose to recognize and celebrate artistic purity, may prove to be guilty of the same.
Back when the AMA Awards nominations were announced, I recalled my days in college and did a run through on who I thought would win versus who should win. After last night’s awards ceremony, I am again affirmed that popularity triumphs over virtue. And as it happens, I may (regrettably) at this point, simply reiterate my prior commentary:
From July 3, 2011 – “AMA Album of the Year Nominee – Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues”
The title track [“Harlem River Blues”](which is nominated for the AMA song of the year) starts the album out with a solid momentum that through shifts in style and genre, makes for what should be worthy of the Album of the Year award. However, I have a feeling that JTE will lose to Robert Plant, on the basis of name recognition.
From June 2, 2011 – “AMA Album of the Year Nominee – Robert Plant: Band of Joy”
Though I could point out the good moments on this album, I’m not going to waste my time or yours. There are countless positive reviews of it, far more sincere in praise than anything I could come up with. If this [Band of Joy] wins over Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues (which I’m sure it will), then it will simply reaffirm my belief that awards are bullshit and the best artist never wins.
As much as I enjoy being right, the announcements from Nashville last night make me wish I wasn’t. But then again, my job is to be honest. Whether or not being so is congruent with popular opinion.
On a positive note, congratulations to Justin Townes Earle on the well deserved win for song of the year with “Harlem River Blues.” I’m glad in this case I was wrong.
To listen to the full program from last night’s AMA awards, visit NPR for an audio broadcast.