After the Grammy Award nominations are announced Friday morning, there’s almost certainly going to be some consternation from champions of rock, like Sirius/XM radio Volume talk host Eddie Trunk, who continually bemoans rock’s seeming irrelevance in awards and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions.
That’s because — even with eight, rather than five, nominees for each of the four major Grammys this year — it’s probable that the only rock nominee in any of those categories will be Greta Van Fleet for best new artist.
Even if a rock record somehow sneaks into the album, song and record of the year nominations — honestly, I can’t think of one that has a shot — the 2019 Grammys are still likely to be hip-hop, R&B and pop-dominated with a bit of country thrown in for good measure.
Or, more accurately, to reflect commercial reality. For the Grammy Awards aren’t just a measure of artistic merit, they’re an award presented by the Recording INDUSTRY Association of America and they’ve always honored what sells.
Again, more precisely these days, it’s what’s streams — hip-hop and pop by far, with country doing well streaming and still selling physical product, e.g. the CDs that the record business is in the process of phasing out.
As for rock, there are plenty of reasons why it’s no longer prominent at the Grammys, a trend that has been ongoing for most of the last decade.
The reasons are rooted in the notion that the Grammys are aimed at recognizing the best work that has at least some commercial success and resonates with the prime new music consuming audience. That is, and has always been, a younger cadre. You can pick your own top age, but let’s say 35 and under.
Rock, like it or not, is the music of their parents or, in some cases, grandparents. To wit, rock 'n' roll (the real stuff) originated in the early to mid 1950s. To take a more personal example, Little Richard, the Quasar of Rock 'n' Roll, who claims to have originated the form, turned 84 this week.
In the late 1960s, the roll was dropped and rock became the dominant musical form. Led Zeppelin’s first album turns 50 next year, and Greta Van Fleet is nothing if not a Zep knockoff.
Punk, our reaction to bloated, overblown, overly serious rock, emerged in the mid '70s and broke through 15 years later with Nirvana — the last time rock was the cutting edge of music. That was a quarter-century ago. Rock of ages, indeed.
Hip-hop, by contrast, began in the mid-'70s and has evolved since, with the trap of Migos and Cardi B now pushing the edge and capturing the ears of a generation. And pop always has been and always will be with us and will draw upon the dominant music of its time.
To my ears, there’s a reason beyond age that rock has taken something of a backseat in the Grammys and pop culture generally.
At its simplest, much of what is now called country would have been seen in the 1970s and '80s as a mainstream rock or pop rock, especially the country that doesn’t even make a pretense with a steel guitar and fiddle.
So, at the artistic end of the scale, Kacey Musgraves' “Golden Hour,” which is sure to get some Grammy noms, maybe in the big categories, is psychedelic pop with a tinge of country that incorporates Fleetwood Mac and vintage dance sounds. That would have been classified as rock at one time.
That day has passed, however, as has the time when rock was the dominant musical force.
It’s still alive. Evidence of that: the thousands that turn up for rock shows at Pinnacle Bank Arena and hundreds who pack the Bourbon Theatre for emerging bands — as will be the case when Rival Sons, one of the top new rock bands, with Lincoln native Dave Beste on bass, plays there next year.
But until it starts generating streams, cranking out radio hits and drawing an under-30 audience, rock’s not going to get much Grammy attention. Nor should it.