Who is Arcade Fire? (or: Since when did talent merit a Grammy?)

I am interrupting a series of posts I’ve been writing about last week’s Dead White Guys twitter debate because there is only one thing on my mind at the moment. If you’re anything like me, you don’t hold the Grammys in very high regard and haven’t for some time now. More often than not, the awarding of the marquee prizes like Album of the Year have about as much to do with talent and accomplishment as the votes you were forced to cast for your high school’s homecoming court. But if the wave of vitriolic vexation that washed over Twitter in the 24 hours following the awarding of Album of the Year to the Arcade Fire for The Suburbs is any indication, the newest generation of Grammy voters may indeed be experiencing a renewed interest in actual music.

There is, of course, a great deal of basking to be done in the glow of the Arcade Fire (likewise in the award for Best New Artist). We had a baffled MTV trying to rationalise Gaga’s defeat, pinning the blame on the paranoid throngs of conservative musicians frightened by her flamboyant espousal of the ‘queer agenda’. Or the shear joy of watching Esperanza Spalding swiftly dash the dreams of countless beleaguered Beliebers. Then there’s this little gem (whoisarcadefire.tumblr.com), which popped up in the wee hours of Monday morning. But, perhaps more important than the all-too-rare public recognition of a band who spend more time practicing than preening or posturing are the symbolic victories which extend far beyond the band members alone.

Because, if you think about it, it’s a victory for all of us, really—for those of us whose interaction with the world reaches beyond the comings and goings of a Madonna knock-off in a rancid meat dress or a Canadian teenager who really ought to be in school. It’s an important victory for we who still clear space for our turntables and call songs by their track numbers because we still have some concept of continuity: of beginning, middle, and end. And it’s a message to the labels—and one we’ve been trying to send for ages now—that music isn’t (and never should be) about churning out hit after hit, but about nurturing artists and fostering creativity and not as dictated by sales figures and focus groups but by high concept and visceral intuition.

And maybe that’s what we’re seeing here. Maybe the Talent are finally sending a message to the parasites who bleed them dry: that while the hit factory model may make them millions, it will never make them respectable. Will that change the behaviour of the Geffens, Bransons, and Davises of this world? Not likely. But something else we learned last night: no one needs major labels anymore. A lot of talent and even more passion can accomplish everything and more than a bottomless bank account ever could. We can only hope that such high-profile recognition of an independent entity will boost the morale of the innumerable others who choose to go it alone. Could we finally be witnessing ‘the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism‘?

P.S. I would be remiss if I did not also take this opportunity to congratulate my former colleagues from the Chicago Symphony as well as my friends at Naxos of America who absolutely crushed in the classical categories Sunday night.

P.P.S. If you liked this, here is another article from Vancouver about the importance of last night’s award.