“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.” ~Birdman
I didn’t watch the Grammy Awards. I never do. But I was nosing around in the news yesterday and saw that Beck won for Best Album, which apparently felt like an upset win to some people. I like surprise wins because they mean someone unsuspecting earned something they deserved at a time when no one believed. It’s a small correction in the balance of the universe. It’s a beautiful thing to pull the rug out from under those who expect without humility or gratitude.
Full disclosure: I like Beck. I have for decades. I think he’s incredibly talented and intriguing. His music shows a range of creativity and depth at a time when our external lives are becoming increasingly superficial. There are those who have criticized him on his latest album for shifting from edgier, quirky pop anthems to slower, quieter, more introspective ballads. They say this album isn’t “Beck” (as if they know him better than he knows himself) and that he’s lost himself or sold out. Those critics haven’t experienced enough of life to embrace the process of personal growth. I believe Beck is Beck but in a different place and time. We all deserve the opportunity to explore who we are in our entirety and not merely to live the roles others ascribe to us.
At the Grammy Awards when Beck took the stage to accept his award, the annoyingly ubiquitous Kanye West had another one of his now infamous, tantruming-toddler moments. He approached the stage in a huff, seemingly prepared to pull another scene like he had with Taylor Swift after her 2009 VMA win, but he pulled back at the last moment and sat down with a smile, a clown simply wanting to draw attention. After the show, however, Kanye let loose, embarking on the epic, diarrhea-of-the-mouth tirade we knew he wanted to play out at the awards ceremony, chiding the awards committee for “disrespecting art” and saying that “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.” I worry about Kanye. He’s a child living in a world of grown ups. I’m not sure he has people around to tell him not to run with scissors. But, wait….perhaps running with scissors while sporting an enormous head and an over-inflated sense of self-importance might be a positive thing for Kanye and every other person on earth? There’s more than one way to burst someone’s bubble.
I had already purchased a couple of songs off Beck’s winning Morning Phase album last year, but after hearing Kanye’s inarticulate and attention-seeking rant I went ahead and purchased the rest of the album. Seemed like it was the least I could do to support the humble, affable Beck after his “shocking” win. I haven’t listened to Beyoncé’s nominated album because, well, I am not a Beyoncé-type-music fan. But I have listened to Beck’s album quite a few times since my hasty download yesterday morning. Morning Phase is a solid, hauntingly beautiful, cohesive work, an album that the Grammy voters were right to recognize whether or not Kanye West agrees. And Beck, recipient of five Grammy Awards from his sixteen Grammy nominations spanning his twenty-year career, is not some obscure, talentless hack who is barely worth the notice. You would hope that Kanye and Beyoncé, with 21 and 20 Grammys respectively, could graciously acknowledge that sometimes other artists should get to take home a gramophone trophy. It just makes the whole awards ceremony idea a little more sporting, don’t you think?
I may not be his biggest fan, but I understand that Kanye West is an important artist. Certainly the Grammy committee believe this as well by nominating him 53 times. No one but no one, though, believes in Kanye’s importance more than Kanye. And, dear sweet Lord baby Jesus, Kanye thinks he’s so important that he’s begun talking about himself in the third person. His bombastic arrogance makes me tired.
I can’t say if Beck’s album is less deserving of a Grammy than Beyoncé’s but I do know this. Kanye West is the kind of self-aggrandizing artist that gives all creative types a bad name. So, yeah. I’m glad Beck won and accepted his award with class and decency while Kanye looked down his nose at him. I’m glad Beck won because it’s refreshing to see an alternative music artist get a little spotlight time in such a public forum. Most of all, I’m glad he won because the world needs a whole lot less Kanye and a whole lot more Beck. Sunday night, Beyoncé may have lost out to the original Loser, but Kanye was the big perdedor.