I’m seeing a lot of people sharing things about how Beck deserved the Grammy more than Beyonce. I’m not a fan of either, and I’ve never heard either album, so I don’t have an opinion on which album deserved to win.
But one thing I’m *very* tired of is the “I’m going to compare these lyrics by a white man with a guitar to these lyrics by a black person/woman/person who doesn’t use a guitar, and the white man with a guitar’s lyrics will be very slightly more coherent, and that will prove something about musical quality” pseudo-argument. It’s smug, and it’s nasty, and it’s not playing fair.
Some songwriters, say Leonard Cohen as an example, put most of their efforts into the lyrics. And some of them produce great stuff.
But you know who’s also great? At least as great as Leonard Cohen?
Sample Little Richard lyrics:
“Awopbopaloolopalopbamboom, tutti frutti, oh rutti, tutti frutti, oh rutti, tutti frutti, oh rutti, tutti frutti, oh rutti, tutti frutti, oh rutti, tutti frutti, oh rutti, awopbopaloolopalopbamboom”
“Bamalamalamaloo, bamalamalamaloo, bamalamalamaloo, bamalamalamaloo, man I dig her smile, she’s trying to drive me wild with bamalamalamalamalamaloo”
“Baby baby, baby baby, baby, Don’t you know my love is true ooo, Honey honey, honey honey, honey, Get off of that money, Kiss kiss, kiss kiss, kiss, Ooh! My soul”
You know who’s even better than both Leonard Cohen *and* Little Richard? Bach. And the Brandenburg Concertos and the Goldberg Variations have *no words whatsoever*. Lazy bugger wasn’t even trying. At least Little Richard made some mouth noises.
Now, personally, I couldn’t care less about the Grammys. They have consistently rewarded mediocrity at the expense of art — my favourite example is when in 1967, Eleanor Rigby, Good Vibrations, Cherish, Last Train to Clarksville and Monday Monday were all nominated for Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Record, but beaten by Winchester Cathedral by the New Vaudeville Band — but at least they’re attempting to judge music as music, however badly they fail.
Judging a record purely on its lyrics is to ignore about 90% of what makes music worth listening to — and is also, incidentally, a good way to marginalise music that is not usually made by white men with guitars, as lyrics are usually far less important in dance music than in other forms.