And the Award for Best Award Show
Goes to no award shows
After winning her 32nd Grammy for best dance/electronic album at the Recording Academy award show this week, Beyonce became the biggest Grammy collector in history, with her zoo of gramophone statues finally rivaling that of conductor Georg Solti, who died in 1997 and will forever believe his hoard was unsurpassed.
Some of Queen Bey’s supplicants are angry, though, as she did not win Album of the Year, which is the one statue to rule them all that would make her a goddess and grant her dominion over the eternal flames of Mordor. Instead, the one statue chose a simple Hobbit from the Shire named Harry Styles. Perhaps the naive but good-hearted Styles, whose life has moved in a single direction, can deliver the statue to the fires that forged it, destroying it forever and sweeping evil from the world.
Some are angry that Beyonce’s life and career just haven't been celebrated enough. The LA Times published an earnest essay by Mikael Wood arguing that Bey should boycott the annual awards show forever more, or at least until the awards voters learn their place. Imagine, of all the people in the world who work hard daily for no recognition and often for constant indignity, Wood uses his platform to take up for Beyonce. Mikael, rest easy — there is nothing more the universe can do to prove that it loves Beyonce. It does. It is only indifferent to the rest of us.
Wood’s essay proves that emotionally investing is a sucker’s game.
If you’re not at least a voter in the awards you’re following, the whole event is just set up to either break your heart or provoke you. The producers want the anger and controversy as it gets people talking. The Recording Academy is manipulating The Middlebrow right now, in fact. Awards shows of all types are just marketing exercises disguised as meritocratic contests.
Having the people who produce and sell music, movies and journalism also hand out awards that purport to tell you what is the best of all three is a profound conflict of interest. From the Nobel Prize in Literature to the Cleo awards for best advertising, this is all just part of the long con run by people with voice and power who want to tell other people what to think. Selections are invariably political, mercenary and bottom-line driven.
Even the great Philip Roth had to contend with this, late in life, when he realized at 95 years old and after 30 novels that the Nobel Prize committee was not going to recognize his work. Though magnanimous about it, as the Nobel had recognized many of Roth’s friends and peers, including Harold Pinter and Saul Bellow. It would be very easy for The Middlebrow to go down the list and make the case that this or that honoree has had nowhere near the impact of Roth. It would be easy to assume the Committee’s 2016 selection of Bob Dylan was a thumb in Roth’s eye.
But, see, that’s playing the award’s game. If you think the work of Beyonce has more merit than the work of Harry Styles, the best way to show that is to listen to more Beyonce. Likewise, the best way to respect the legacy of Roth is to read all thirty of his books.
Two truths: the best things in our cultural lives will usually not have statues attached to them, and Beyonce will always be fine.