To be honest, I stopped watching the Grammys years ago. Awards shows lost their appeal for me around the time Kanye West making an ass of himself became more highly-anticipated than a Kanye West performance, so my Grammy coverage this year consisted of scanning the New York Times’ live feed between club meetings and school readings.
I had long been a fan of Arcade Fire and knew they had been nominated for Album of the Year, but I never expected them to make it to the podium in light of their far more famous competition – Eminem, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Lady Antebellum – and their competition’s arsenal of number one records. I thought the Academy had only nominated Arcade Fire to fill some sort of genre quota or to appease some contingent of indie lobbyists, not to actually consider the band for the music industry’s highest honor, so imagine my surprise when “Album of the Year Goes to Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs” appeared at the top of the page.
Seconds later, my Facebook feed exploded with friends’ statuses ranging from triumphant to irate, and the twitterverse reverberated with echoes of lead singer Win Butler‘s on-stage reaction to the win, “What the hell?”
Though Arcade Fire has been a critic favorite in indie rock circles for a while, even appearing on Red Hot’s Dark Was the Night compilation back in 2009, the majority of Americans had no idea who the band was or why they were worthy of taking Album of the Year away from Lady Gaga and her 28 million Facebook fans.
Rosie O’Donnell tweeted, “album of the year? ummm never heard of them ever,” and Dog the Bounty Hunter asked, “Who the hell is that Fire who?” A whole tumblr called “Who is Arcade Fire??!!?” was created to house all the twitter and Facebook posts asking that very question, and as usual, Kanye West had an opinion to tweet: “#Arcade fire!!!!!!!!!! There is hope!!! I feel like we all won when something like this happens!”
Arcade Fire’s win is surprising and unexpected and even unconventional. The fact that an indie rock band from Montreal could beat out Eminem, an artist with ten Grammy nominations this year alone, that’s popularized rap music for over a decade, and embodies the American rags-to-riches legend, is damn impressive. Could this award be saying something about the future of the music industry? This was the year that Kanye rapped over Bon Iver, Lil’ Wayne collaborated with Weezer, and Joanna Newsom sang with The Roots, so it might not be too much to say that the Grammys are actually just hopping on the indie-turned-mainstream bandwagon.
Regardless of motive, the Grammys led millions to listen to new music and think about exactly what kind of musical achievement warrants the title, “Album of the Year.” This year, the big morning-after talking points weren’t about what the stars were wearing, it was about the stars’ music. This year, the Grammys finally did their job as the face of the music industry and sparked substantive artistic dialogue, so this year, I actually feel like Kanye’s infamous exclamation points are warranted. He’s right, this is exciting!!!!!