HON JIUN WONG
One of the most irrational and insane debates has been going on all over the internet in the past few days. For some reason, people are split over who should have rightfully won the 2015 Grammy Award for Album of the Year: Beyoncé for her self-titled fifth album or Beck for ‘Morning Phase’. Realistically, Beck’s surprise win would have blown over quite quickly if Kanye West hadn’t decided to have a public opinion about the award. While Beyoncé and Beck are both deserving the award, there’s something inherently wrong with how individuals are framing the argument and how they’re interpreting West’s comments.
Kanye’s comment that “Beck needs to respect artistry” is like saying House Leader John Boehner should respect the views of the public he represents or that Nigel Farage should respect the equality of genders, nationalities and ethnic groups. How does one go about define ‘artistry’? A large portion of the internet decided to solve this problem by comparing the number of writers and producers that each album involved, the number of instruments played by each musician and the lyrics of specific songs. Just for the record, Beck wrote, produced and arranged all thirteen songs and plays thirteen instruments while Beyoncé had a team of sixteen people and didn’t play a single instrument. However, one can argue that Beyoncé’s voice is an instrument in its own right and she uses it pretty damn well.
First of all, the comparisons that have been made between Beyoncé’s 7/11 and Beck’s Blue Moon are flawed simply one compares a bonus single with a song that was actually on the main album. This comparison is basically when an image was shared on social media comparing the chorus of Beyoncé’s Run The World (Girls) with a verse off Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody; the levels of complexities that a verse demands differ quite significantly from that of a chorus. If one really wants to set out on comparing the lyrics of Beyoncé and Back, they could use Ghost in which she criticises the current music culture and questions the empty ritual of a working lifestyle.
Moving on, if one is basing ‘artistry’ off the number of people involved in a body of work and that those who work solely on their own are ‘true artists’, then the power of creative collaboration is severely undermined. English band Gorillaz produces music that is a result of collaborating with different musicians, while Canadian rock band Broken Social Scene is a collaborative that has as few as six or as many as nineteen members. It’s not that Beck should be commended for being the only person listed on his album’s credits, but that one should realise that some of the world’s greatest songs and albums were a result of late night sessions in a studio, kicking around different sounds and seeing what everyone else thought of. Is an artist the person who only looks to themselves for inspiration or is it the person who looks around and takes on similarly-driven people to work on a project that might be bigger for just one person? Is it inartistic to craft a body of work with several individuals and then credit them for their invaluable contribution?
Some are of the opinion that Beyoncé should have won because her self-titled album was suddenly dropped on the world without any warning or promotion - a high risk move for such a big pop star - or because the album has sold more than five million copies worldwide. This sort of reasoning is understandable when assessing how much attention each album got, but not when evaluating an album. By that very reasoning, Lady Gaga’s 2012 album Born This Way should have knocked Adele’s 21 in the 2012 Grammy Awards after selling over a million copies in its first week of release.
The number of sales that an album gets is secondary to the amount of work and detail that has gone to crafting it. Neither should the manner of which it has been released be considered as a criteria for album of the year. Re-looking back to the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, it really should come to anybody’s surprise that Adele’s 21 won Album of the Year; the themes of vulnerability and honest song-writing managed to resonate with millions of people across the world. If the award was renamed to be “Best Release of the Year”, then undoubtedly Beyoncé’s surprise release would have won but the Academy has yet to consider PR and marketing strategy as a category in the Grammy Awards. Not that they really should.
Kanye West’s comments are not entirely false but nor do they warrant complete mindless acceptance. When West said that if people “keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration”, his comments would have been better if they were applied to the current consumption and appreciation of music. Preferring singles over whole albums disrespect the craft of making music and under-appreciating the art and thought process behind songs is both disrespectful and harmful to the artist and all who have been involved. Beyoncé and Beck have both worked incredibly hard on their albums, but it is a gross injustice for people to think that sales, credits and something as subjective as lyrics are the basis of an award.