You, me, Kanye, The-Dream, Grammys and respect
There are a lot of things to think about in Jon Caramanica’s interview of Kanye West, but one part that immediately stuck with me was when Kanye talked about the Grammys. “I don’t care about the Grammys,” he said. “I just would like for the statistics to be more accurate. I don’t want them to rewrite history right in front of us.”
Music has a weird relationship with the Grammys right now. The Grammy people (whoever they are) have worked hard to re-establish the awards as meaningful to contemporary musicians and audiences, but stupid stuff nonetheless still happens: Mumford and Sons defeat Frank Ocean, LL Cool J closes out the show with Chuck D and Tom Morello, etc. Not a lot of people want the Grammys to matter, artists included. But the Grammys continue to matter, not in the least because artists find themselves having no choice but to cling to this award show.
“As much as we want to speak out most of the time against the Grammys,” The-Dream told me a few months ago, ”the point actually is that those things are decided amongst our peers in music, on what’s good or not.” Part of this is historical, as Kanye articulates. No average citizen remembers anything about these awards, but Grammys last forever on that shelf. Long after people stop caring about these guys — and they will stop caring (to an extent) about Kanye, to say nothing of The-Dream — they can always go and stare at their reflections in their gold trophies.
But I wonder, too, if this is what the fractured, decaying music business has left its artists. Artists of this stature — and athletes, too — are driven by infinitesimal and often outright imagined slights. But they crave validation, too — we all do. And so the Grammys, improbably, have emerged as an arbiter that none of them want but all of them need. What is accurate to these people anymore? Album sales? Digital downloads? Record reviews? Nope. Their peers deciding what’s good or not starts to sound pretty appealing.
This dynamic with the Grammys, really, is stupid. But it’s purely, almost heartbreakingly, human. Every industry in the world continues to have more and more specific information at its fingertips, but I’m not sure in which industries — outside of Silicon Valley’s bubble of self-mythology — workers actually think people are getting smarter. Not in media, certainly. And not in music either.
We all have numbers now to live up to, ones that no longer hide in the shadows. Contemporary corporate culture suggests that everything must move up, up, up — and rapidly. In the race with numbers, we can’t help but lose — unless “we” happens to be, I don’t know, Adele or Michael Lewis. So where do we turn? It feels nice when people you respect tell you that they’re feeling something you’ve created. This, of course, is not a new phenomenon — but as creative industries continue to deflate, respect is what plenty of us will continue to look to feed off of. You, me, Kanye West and The-Dream.
Yeezus will be a No. 1 record two weeks from now. But if Kanye cares to look at the raw numbers, he’s likely to see an album — one that I suspect is one of his proudest moments — that has sold less than anything he’s ever created. He’s proud to say now that he doesn’t care about album sales. So is The-Dream: “I have the respect of my peers, and that’s the only one that matters,” he told me. I think I believe them. The old system has failed them, or so they feel.
What’s left? Well, the Grammys for one. But that’s out of their control, too — that makes it all even the more frustrating. Instead, from my vantage point at least, Kanye and The-Dream take care to surround themselves with people that inspire them, and they thrive off that. Two nights ago, Kanye said, “If you ever see somebody standing next to me, know that they’re better than me at something.” The people in his orbit — from music to art to fashion — certainly reflect that. When I talked to The-Dream he was most energetic when describing recent studio sessions where Jay-Z was in one room and Beyonce was in the other and Timbaland and Timberlake were in the next one over. He glowed during a listening session as he toyed with a physical copy of IV Play — an elaborate pyramid which he must have known very few people would purchase and, thus, see — mentioning how Jay and B told him it made them feel like they had to step their packaging game up.
Kanye and The-Dream are obscenely wealthy and talented people. Here, though, in what they have found themselves valuing as things collapse all around them — here, I can relate, if not find wisdom. Come to think of it, they’ve made the most compelling argument I can think of to make me feel good about living in New York.
inc. - lifetime (2013)
A quick little gallery showing the Spring Breakers visual aesthetic predicted a half-year earlier in the video for Lil Debbie & V-Nasty’s “Gotta Ball,” directed by Maxwell Albert.
Freeway ft. Lil Wayne - “Step Back” (2007)
Legendary NFL announcer Pat Summerall died today. Freeway and Lil Wayne once built a song around samples of his voice.
How to Destroy Angels - “How Long?” (2013)
I saw Trent Reznor’s new thing How to Destroy Angels at Coachella this past weekend. The music was okay but it was a fun show to look at — he seems to put more effort into the visual experience than just about anyone. This song is incredible, though — it was so much better than everything else they played that I just assumed it was a cover.
Young Chop with a Master P doll.