Arcade Fire and the Grammy culture shock


@mitZinereader, If you tweet or tumble, you’ve stumbleupon-ed the “Who Is Arcade Fire??!!?” meme.

On Sunday night, Twitter imploded with the cries of mass culture misery: “The Grammys have something against famous people.” Arcade Fire stole Album of the Year from the “recovered” and deserving Eminem. Don’t forget about Katy Perry, who’s worked her fingers to the bone negotiating an OPI nail polish collection. How could she not win? And that Lady Antebellum song always plays in my dentist’s office on Q97.5. Come on, judges. This ain’t fair.

We’re in FIMS. We know that everything that is unfair is fair game on the Interwebz. Hashtags and YouTube parodies abound, the Montreal indie rock group has become both a meme and a movement within a mere week. It’s now a “you’re either with us or against us” attitude. 

Sunday night had its fair share of expected spectacle and unexpected wins. Gaga looked like a Batmobile-inspired cyberpunk. Cee Lo Green donned a peacock frock. However, Arcade Fire bounded on stage with no façade – no cry for “Hot or Not List” attention. Do the Grammys embody anything beyond popular image? Considering that 2009’s Album of the Year went to the queen of tween twang, Taylor Swift, this year’s announcement was definitely a culture shock.

But I’m not going to take the “I’ll-beat-you-with-the-back-of-my-secondhand-desert-boot-if-you-ask-who-‘the Suburbs’-are-one-more-time” approach — there’s plenty of room for the mainstream and the underground. Swift is a respectable musician in her own right who just happens to have “the image.” When an artist is thrown onto a pedestal, the audience looks for something aesthetically pleasing that they can obsess over, consume t-shirts of, and feel part of a group. It so happens that Arcade Fire is not a typical teenage dream. In fact, they are one of those rare acts that challenge the norm of Top 40, bridging material success with a DIY aesthetic. Even well-versed “hipsters” who’ve moved on to more obscure groups (heralded by Pitchfork nonetheless) will dismiss the band’s success as “selling out.” And so Arcade Fire appears to be in a strange online limbo.

The Internet was also buzzing with bafflement over the Best New Artist category, awarded to Esperanza Spalding. Kanye West, notorious for raising “a toast to the motherfucking douchebags,” tweeted “Damn… I can’t find the words to explain how I feel about the best new artist award… Don’t wanna say the wrong thing.” The wrong thing would be to say that Drake, Kanye’s labelmate on Def Jam, should have won. He then declared his support for the indie rock win with the hashtag “#ARCADEFIRE!” and proceeded with the polar opposite post,“#PROUDOFJUSTIN.”

Sure, it could be the rapper’s ego speaking, but I think there’s something to learn from Kanye’s messages and his past award show experience (ahem, T-Swift trauma). We live in a critical culture that’s always plugged-in and willing to express their opinion. The Internet presents a new chance to dispute the credibility and values of the music industry. If this were thirty years ago, you would have read about it in Rolling Stone or talked to your friends about your disappointment.

With this dissemination of music through Internet culture, I think it’s about damn time for the Fire to ignite. They’re one of the most innovative bands on the scene, embracing all the Web has to offer. While Katy Perry churned out Black Shatter for OPI, Arcade Fire produced the interactive short film, The Wilderness Downtown, online. Most recently, Tuesday’s Brit Awards saw the group snagging the statues for Best International Group and Best Album of 2010. Butler smirked on stage: “We’re called Arcade Fire. Check it out on Google.”

Like Ricky Gervais’ sly jabs at The Golden Globes, I think the Grammys’ audience needs a reality check. The truth is, we’re fame monsters that value people for the wrong reason. Arcade Fire has never made a movie about hustlin’ in Detroit a la 8 Mile. And they’ve never worn meat-clad cloaks on the red carpet. Oh, but wait — they did play a sold-out show in Madison Square Garden and debuted on 3 different nations’ Top 40 album charts after being a band for almost 10 years.

And to this Grammy buzz, I propose a toast: here’s to the motherfucking douchebags who make pop culture deliberation possible.

If only Theodor Adorno could tweet from the grave. #FrankfurtFTW.

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