Newcomer Norah Jones upsets Bruce Springsteen at the Grammy Awards. In the eternal words of Elvis Costello, “I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused.”
Norah Jones beating “The Boss” isn’t as bad as Hillary Clinton or Milli Vanilli winning Grammys, but The Rising should have won Album of the Year. I thought it would. It deserved to. I also thought the voters would have taken the opportunity to correct a mistake they made 18 years ago when Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down was recognized as Best Album over Springsteen’s Born in the USA.
Some of the 9/11 images The Rising conjures are obvious, but others are evocative snapshots of ordinary people struggling with the events of extraordinary times. Reunited with the E Street Band, Springsteen resurrects an old energy. It doesn’t just tries to sound “important.” It is challenging.
Jones has an excellent voice. Her singing is superior and Come Away With Me is technically proficient. She probably deserved to win in nearly every category she was nominated in, though I think Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” would have been a worthy Song of the Year winner. But, will Jones’s be a classic?
I don’t think so. Tony Bennett says that he loved the fact that the Jones won: “It’s great that young artists are starting to recognize tradition. Bennett, of course, won for a similar album a few years back (Unplugged). The industry knows there is a niche for “tradition-oriented” music (i.e. last year Oh, Brother Where Art Thou won over U2′s All That You Can’t Leave Behind) and works to exploit it. This is the perfect market for a Norah Jones.
There may also be an identity politics issue at work. The industry may have a problem with “message” music by men? Over the space of ten years, only two albums by male singer-songwriters have been recognized as album of the year.
Selecting Norah Jones over Bruce Springsteen makes a lot of contemporary political sense. Jones seems to have few political opinions to espouse. Springsteen, for all his working man themes, is pretty much a liberal. He might have said something at the podium.
But, should the music be allowed to “do the talking?” Should artists be recognized for creating honest songs that speak to a certain time? Good songwriters can speak to the times in interesting and entertaining ways. One doesn’t have to accept the politics of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio” to recognize that it’s good writing. Neil Young, who wrote it, also crafted the much different “Let’s Roll” last year in the wake of 9/11. It’s not one of his best songs, but it demonstrates that he has an ear for speaking to what is going on in the world at a certain time.
This is the second year in a row that the Grammys have sent a message that “Chicks with Pianos” beat “Dudes with Guitars.” Last year, Alicia Keys was in the keyboard-driven melodic-pop niche that Norah Jones currently occupies. Keys won five awards — though not album of the year.
Keys and Jones are clearly producing the music that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences wants to recognize post-9/11. Perhaps more personal and “timeless” melodic product is the wave of the future. Perhaps there is a thought that the average listener doesn’t want to be stimulated lyrically as well as musically.
I admit my bias towards songs and albums that have something to say lyrically as well as musically. Based on the last couple of years (as far as recognizing outstanding albums), that’s not the direction NARAS is going on. Whether that’s good in the long run for the music industry is open to question. Regardless, Bruce Springsteen has nothing to apologize for.
— Robert A. George is an editorial writer for the New York Post who has done time as a professional DJ (and amateur comedian).