In a Grammy exit interview with a newly-awarded Bon Iver, Justin Vernon talked to SPIN about his discomfort over the ceremony’s mass appeal. He shared that Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear sent him a note beforehand that read, “Hey man, go win one for the indies.” Vernon also told the magazine that he had a problem with Chris Brown…lip-syncing.
Plenty of things proved my concerns, like people just not playing music. Chris Brown was pure playback. A few other people were just playback. And that’s hard to swallow.
Perhaps what followed is harder to swallow. Today, US Weekly reported that three years after viciously assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna, Brown tried to pick up a woman at the Lasio Professional Hair Care suite Grammy gift lounge last week. He asked for her number and then said, “I promise I won’t beat you.”
What do these two news items have to do with one another? Everything.
Over the past two years, the indie community has been granted a new kind of entrée to the Grammy Awards. In 2011, when Arcade Fire won “Best Album,” the camp experienced surprise, smug bemusement, and maybe a half-considered urge to go flip over a car in the street. Ed Droste’s note was a sentiment shared by many—despite conflicting views over Bon Iver’s latest album, he still felt like an ambassador from our world. But, we failed, you guys. He failed, too.
Chris Brown’s presence at the Grammys was not something to be taken lightly. Independently, it served as a comment on how our society, as well as our music-listening culture, can forget a truly heinous deed in favor of being-entertained-right-now. The message it sent to Rihanna and women everywhere was worse: Brown’s presence proved with crushing conviction that, in the eyes of mainstream culture, his assault was not a Big Deal, that These Things Happen, and that things similar to them should be eagerly resolved with speed and forgiveness.
But this year, maybe we can share some of the blame. Bon Iver, too. When he had the opportunity to speak about his reactions to the Grammy Awards, he chose to complain about the fact that Brown was lip-syncing, for fuck’s sake? Of all the things to take issue with at this particular pop music awards ceremony?
If we expect mass culture to hold our pop stars to higher standards, we, the smaller, “independent” crowd, should hold ours to higher standards as well. If that means pulling our heads out of our butts for five minutes to talk about how something really shitty is going on at the Grammy Awards (and no, not in terms of “playback”), then we need to do so. On Brown’s appearance, Pitchfork was quiet. Heck, I didn’t write anything either. Now the guy’s going around with a “I promise I won’t beat you” pick up line. Our silence didn’t help.
You can follow Sydney Brownstone on Twitter @sydbrownstone