Monday, February 1, 2010
The GRAMMYs Made it Clear Why Michael Jackson Will Be Missed
The GRAMMY award show last night was disappointing on so many levels and made me miss Michael Jackson for so many reasons. While the award show has been traditionally, for the past decade or so, the more boring awards show for soul music lovers when compared to award shows like the Soul Train Music Awards, for some reason, when a soul music favorite is nominated, the hype immediately leads us to believe that maybe this year will be different.
This year, we had so many fabulous soul artists to root for—from Maxwell and India.Arie to indie faves Eric Roberson and the Foreign Exchange. DC indie Christylez was even nominated for his work on a children’s album. However, upon viewing the show, it becomes clear that there is a difference between rooting for your faves and sitting patiently through an awards show that has predominate performances from artists you never heard of, don’t really care to hear more of or wish that you would stop hearing from altogether (Kanye, where were you when we needed you to get your girl?)
Though we may be a bit eager to see some of the pop icons do their thing when given the opportunity, even that last night was a disappointment. With show openers like Beyonce and Lady Gaga, I admit that I was hopeful at first--especially when Beyonce belted out Alanis Morrissette’s 15 year-old girl-anthem“You Oughta Know”. But, alas, the GRAMMY’s were a bust. Even Pink’s literal circus act could not redeem an evening that was empty of any type of resonating entertainment and a night void of performances that spoke boldly and compassionately to audiences through the vehicle of song.
Was it too much to expect that the Grammy’s have the same amount of star quality and artistic resonance that was abundant on the very recent Hope for Haiti telethon? Perhaps a social tragedy is what is needed for performers today to give their most heartfelt and emotionally stirring performances nowadays. Or, maybe there are only select performers who are able to extend their music and ultimate performances outside of the artist prison which is mainstream music nowadays. I tend to think that is an easy rationalization on the part of artists if that is so, because I think Michael Jackson and artists like him (who were missing from last night’s Grammy’s show) have made it part of their musical legacy to stay in both lanes of music ambassadors and entertainers. While entertaining is the act of performing upon demand, the role of a music ambassador is to use your music to speak to things that aren’t so easily accepted or articulated through the spoken word.
Michael Used Music As a Tool
While the gloved one is resting in peace, his spirit still left an indelible mark on his song Earth Song which was played last night with accompanying vocals lent by Jenifer Hudson, Celine Dion, Usher and Carrie Underwood. My bet is that even if the four bellowing singers were absent from the stage and stricken silent and the song was left to play with only the visuals from the 3-d movie showing behind them on stage, the “performance” would have still been the best of the night. Here’s why.
Michael Jackson, while a pop star, also had almost an addiction to creating work that spoke to social ills and international concerns on a humanistic level. While he dazzled us and perked our ears with hits ranging from “Billie Jean” to “Smooth Criminal”, Jackson never neglected to slip in a “Man in the Mirror” or “They Don’t Really Care About Us” at every turn. His music laurels rested on the notion that music was healing and that notion trumped any thoughts we may have had of MJ being all show or empty entertainment.
Michael Jackson addressed the need for spiritual and philanthropic awakening in many of his songs and his concerts, movie-like videos and stage performances during award shows more often than not included an element of a message that spoke to the power of awareness and action by everyday people. While viewing his concert prep in his DVD “This Is It”, it is evident that MJ’s publicly known perfectionist tendencies regarding his shows stemmed from his want for his audience and fans to have an “experience” when they hear him, see him and enjoy his concerts. I don’t think many popular artists today care so much about our experience nowadays as they do about their own self-indulgent behavior which is witnessed in every performance that makes the music secondary to the theatrics we must bear witness to.
While Michael wanted folks to enter his world where there was fun, antics and over-the-top visuals, at the root was simple music that spoke to the raw emotion he experienced when living through an unrequited love, witnessing the pain of others in the world, when seeing the mindless destruction of our planet by our very hands or when knowing that such personal devices as racism--any ism for that matter-- lends to a emptiness of soul living and empathy for others.
His song “Earth Song”, when played last night was the needed performance to bring folks attention to the power that is music, rather than the entertainment that is dramatic costuming, spinning trapeze acts or weave tossing dancing. The wailing and theatrics demonstrated on the Grammy’s last night were indicative of a popular arts pulse that has begun to slacken due to conformist tendencies that have dominated the output from the celebrated entertainers of late.
While MJ was noted for his glitzy and almost Vegas-level produced shows, he almost always brought it back it to the point of it all, the music. And when he did, he shone. Here’s hoping that the GRAMMY’s and other artists get that hint next go round.