The Problem with Bon Iver’s GRAMMY Acceptance Speech
For those of you that may have missed it, Justin Vernon, lead singer of Bon Iver, won two GRAMMY awards last night. One for Best Alternative Album and the other for Best New Artist. The latter win came despite the considerable success of Vernon’s debut 2007 release For Emma, Forever Ago.
Vernon gave one of the more awkward (See video) acceptance speeches in recent memory for his Best New Artist award last night, saying:
“Hi. It’s really hard to accept this award, um. But, uh, well there’s so much talent out here – like on this stage, and there’s a lot of talent that’s not here tonight. It’s also hard to accept because, you know when I started to make songs, I did it for the inherent reward of making songs…So I’m a little bit uncomfortable up here, but with that discomfort I do have a sense of gratitude. I want to say thank you to all the nominees and to all the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here…”
It seemed Vernon was attempting to use the stage at LA’s Staples Center as a platform to discuss the growing dichotomy between The Recording Academy and the rise of independent artists and labels, bolstered by the Internet’s effect on popular music. While I agree wholeheartedly with Vernon’s words, the end result appeared less of a rebel’s stance than the beating of a half-dead horse.
An acceptance like Vernon’s would have came across as shocking and noteworthy had it occurred in the 1990s, when major labels were still churning out platinum albums with regularity. Instead, Vernon’s words come after a decade of turmoil within the industry that has seen album sales dwindle and independent artists thrive in a fashion never previously thought possible. As a result, I found myself cringing during the speech rather than pumping my independent fist firmly in the air.
Essentially, the revolution in music has already taken place. The independents have won the war, even if the bourgeoisie may win a few more skirmishes. Yes, the major labels continue to maintain the lion’s share of radio time, but I tend to think that balance of power will shift naturally as radio moves from the airwaves to the Internet in the coming years.
So I ask, what was gained by Vernon’s decision to take a stance? He didn’t say anything that should come as a surprise to The Academy or its viewers. In my opinion, the bolder decision would have been to quietly accept the awards, knowing that they no longer carry the clout of decades past. Instead, the acceptance was exactly what the lamestream audience expected of indie’s leading man, allowing pop fans to shrug, “Another hipster disses the GRAMMYs…so what?”
Watch the video below and let us know your reaction. Do you think Vernon’s speech was shocking and worthwhile? Or is he simply saying what we all already know: major labels are a decaying dinosaur, grasping at their last strands of control?
Written by Rob Peoni