by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Masquerade & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & ifty is an important anniversary. Gold, right? The kind of event whole retirement communities in Florida and Arizona get dressed up to celebrate. Families fly in from out of town. Everyone puts on their glad rags and gathers to pretend that the constituents of the union they're celebrating aren't withering to dust in front of their eyes.
An overly bleak portrait of marriage perhaps, but not of the record industry, whose 50th-anniversary Grammy Awards was a dithering mix of in-group circle jerk and head-in-the-sand reminiscence.
Tina Turner sings "Proud Mary" with Beyonce. Cirque de Mediocre pantomimes a Sgt. Pepper-themed Beatles tribute. Alicia Keys duets a filmed Frank Sinatra the way Natalie Cole had done with her late dad Nat.
The best moment of the night for the forward-looking among us was Kanye West getting Daft Punk onstage for their first TV performance. The worst wasn't Kanye then losing Album of the Year to Herbie Hancock, it was Kanye not throwing a temper tantrum afterward. He wasn't happy, but he was hardly his old bratty self. Part of that was West's cunning, not wanting to criticize the decision to lionize an African-American icon like Hancock. Part of it, though, had to be a realization that the Grammys are utterly irrelevant.
Why did Timbaland get five producer noms and Mark Ronson only three? Why didn't MIA get any nods at all? To quote certain increasingly belabored presidential campaigns: the status quo. Big labels put the thing on, big labels take home the prizes. The Song of the Year dark horse, nominee for God's sake, was Corinne Bailey Rae, a Capitol Records signee. In the major categories, I can count on one hand the number of nominees from non-major labels. Arcade Fire for Alternative Album and Paramour for Best New Artist.
The Internet has led to choice, and choice has led people to spend less time with mass-marketed artists and more time exploring boutique labels and back catalogues. The Grammys have failed to keep pace.
Say what you will about the Oscars, the blockbusters don't always win. At the Grammys they do -- they're the only things nominated -- which is why viewership is dropping as fast as major-label album sales.