The Grammy Awards faced controversy long before this year’s ceremony; more than 30 categories faced the axe. With music outside Billboard lists already facing marginalization, the changes angered many artists by combining genders and averaging together genres.
More fundamentally, artists can easily argue that the awards lack direct relevance to music they value, and look instead to validation from other sources.
But watching the acceptance speeches by Skrillex, you see an impression not so much of how the Grammy Awards view Electronic Dance Music as how Skrillex views the EDM community. Winning three awards – Best Dance Recording, Best Electronic/Dance Album, and Best Remixed Recording – Skrillex, aka Sonny Moore, turns attention elsewhere. He acknowledges artists who came before him who seem shoe-ins for Grammy winners in hindsight (Daft Punk, anyone?), and looks to the wider community of artists from which he came. Mentor deadmau5 seemed in on the festivities, too, wearing a t-shirt with Skrillex’s mobile number on it, poking fun at his student.
If anything was newsworthy in 2011, to me it is the reemergence of the notion of a greater, united “Electronic Dance Music community.” Even the very acronym EDM seemed on the comeback. What’s ironic about this, of course, is that those please for unity came in the context of an artist (Skrillex) whose work has proven divisive. But whether or not you like Skrillex’s music, and whether or not you feel the word “dubstep” has anything at all to do with it, the self-identification of EDM communities may be longer lasting than any one artist.
Bizarrely, I’ve read a number of commentaries describing Skrillex’s work as achieving some sort of larger recognition for independent electronic music. This seems not to jive with some of the “facts on the ground,” as the saying goes. Voting Skrillex for the Grammies was an easy numbers game, going after the biggest hit artist. Skrillex achieved an inarguable crossover victory in sales numbers, but you don’t need a Grammy to prove that. Moreover, the video footage you see above wasn’t aired on US TV; Skrillex’s wins all came in dance-specific categories and all aired before the telecast.
At least the marketing of the event featured Skrillex prominently, as did the nomination (if not win) as a new artist. Writing for the Dubspot Blog (no direct relationship to “dub” or “dubstep” in that school), Stefan Nickum points to that and makes a broader argument:
The 54th Grammy Awards: Electronic Music, Skrillex and the Re-Shaping of American Pop [Dubspot blog]
American pop has certainly been reshaped by Deadmau5 and protege Skrillex, though we’ve heard this narrative before, many times. Amidst tectonic shifts in pop music consumption and creation, I think it’s impossible to say whether this time will be different from the much-touted crossover breakthrough of electronics and dance styles in the 80s and 90s in the US.
The artist who did win the Best New Artist nod could himself be called an “electronic” artist, though not a dance artist – Bon Iver. And in a number of ways, I find Bon Iver, with his unique voice (lyrically, compositionally, and literally), a more interesting artist than Skrillex, and one who wasn’t quite so obvious in terms of record sales. Apparently Grammy voters agreed.
Whatever was happening at the Grammies for electronic music or pop or dance music, the line between bedroom and studio is certainly erased forever. And even for Skrillex foes, it’s hard not to feel a little warm and fuzzy as he talks about bedroom music making and working out of an illegal warehouse in downtown LA on a blown speaker.
Even if there’s no surprise whatsoever in the Grammies falling in love with Skrillex, it’d be huge news if a lot of us bedroom-style producers and lesser-known artists found a way to warm our hearts to this much-maligned artist. Happy Valentine’s Day.
(Yes, that’s a joke – an especially brilliant one.)
Thanks to Giuseppe Sorce and Eva-Maria Karich for tips on this story!