Last night we watched the BAFTAs, which is quite a regular occurrence (well, once a year) because Em loves film award shows. And to be honest I like them too: it’s a bit like watching people win medals at the Olympics; as I get older I get more and more of an emotional rush from seeing someone work hard for something and be rewarded for it. Of course there are the off-putting, gushing acceptance speeches to deal with from time-to-time, but that’s par for the course. And occasionally you witness a nice, deserved surprise.
There were very few surprises at last night’s ceremony though, bar David Fincher beating Tom Hooper to the Best Director accolade; as predicted, The King’s Speech cleaned up, with best actor, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best original music, best film, and a load of others too, I imagine. (Toy Story 3 ended up with “best adapted screenplay”, wtf?)
But there was a surprise when I woke up at about 4.30am and checked Twitter; Arcade Fire won the Grammy for best album. wtf?
I hadn’t even realised the Grammys were on, because I really couldn’t give a damn about them in the slightest. This is because the Grammys give ridiculous awards that make no sense. For instance, in 2011, giving an award for Best Male Rock Vocal (a stupid category to give an award in anyway) to Paul McCartney for Helter Skelter. Now I love Helter Skelter, properly adore it, listened to it very loud just the other day, in fact, and consider it to be without doubt a very great performance by everyone involved. But it’s on The White Album, and came out in 1968, and only a crowd of braindead moronic music haters could possibly even consider giving it a Grammy in 2011.
Several years ago I interviewed a band and the guitarist, who is very English and very Northern, said something along the lines of “every time you sit down to write a song you imagine winning a Grammy”, which I always considered to be a massively odd thing for anyone other than a country singer from Nashville to say. But, you know, people are different and that’s cool.
So at 4.30am I was greeted by various American music people who I vaguely know going either batshit and tweeting shocked responses or else completely insane things like “we won!” and “we did it!”, or, amongst the slightly more sceptical, things like this and this, both of which I agree with way, way more than the outpourings of triumphalism.
Don’t get me wrong; I quite like The Suburbs (which is a lot more than I like Funeral and a little bit more than I like Neon Bible), and I know people who know and/or have worked with Arcade Fire, and it’s a great, massive, career-highlight achievement to win a Grammy, which are normally reserved for the likes of Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Norah Jones, and Steely Dan (i.e. massive irresistible crossover hip hop, straightforwardly massive country, sensitive but popular chanteuses, or horrific AOR), or, you know, The Beatles.
But it’s still a Grammy, and the Grammys are, well… Everett True said it best, perhaps. Although a part of me feels as if crowing about how stupid and useless the Grammys are, from a flat in Exeter, is even more small-minded and indie than the whole “we won” and “we did it” nonsense.
Which is what grates me the most about this, I think. I’m not going to write a think piece about what “indie music” is, because the term is pretty stupid and efforts to define it just make the writer look stupid by association too. But it seems pernickety in the extreme to think of a band whose latest album hit number one on both sides of the Atlantic in its first week of release, who sell out Madison Square Gardens, who are lauded with “album of the year” plaudits all over the shop, as some kind of underdog. This isn’t Mega City Four or even Spoon. (They both have songs called Underdog; dyswidt?)
I suppose I used to feel to an extent, about some bands, that being a fan wasn’t all that far removed from following a football team; the sublimation of self within a crowd, being a part of unravelling narratives that are bigger than yourself, the joy at measurable triumphs (3 points; a top ten single), validation that something you care about is good, is successful, is liked and respected by others. But not all that much and really not these days.
I guess and it comes down to solipsism again. That or age. I grew up discovering music in a bedroom in Devon, on my own, exploring stuff that revealed new worlds to me, which made my existence more beautiful or exciting or mysterious. It wasn’t a tribalistic thing for me particularly because I had no tribe; none of my friends liked Orbital or Björk, even if they did like The Stone Roses or The Verve. And The Suburbs is explicitly about tribalism, and musical tribalism at that, about adolescence and slowly leaving it, about driving from the drive-in cinema to the mall to the middle of nowhere and defining yourself and your friends by what you listen to and what you wear; about feeling outcast by mainstream society by embraced by your own subculture. I’ve read Dick Hebdige. So it’s not surprising that, when a band who makes music about those themes wins an award like a Grammy, it should feel, to some people, like a well deserved triumph, like a mutual success, like a validation.
Which makes it even crueller, or funnier if you’re in that sort of mood, that Radiohead have announced today that their new album will be available to download on Saturday, and thus that, even though it’s only a few hours since the Grammys finished, Arcade Fire’s success is already old news. Because if “indie” fans are anything, it’s fickle. I should now. I’m the ficklest of all.