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February 13, 2012

19

The Problem with Bon Iver’s GRAMMY Acceptance Speech

by @thoughtontracks

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

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19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feb 16 2012

    Your completely naive if you think the major labels have “lost the war”. That is exactly what they want you to think. Go listen to any local independent radio station and alls you will hear are major label acts. The used indie record store down the street will only show case bands if they are on major labels. Most stations independent or major only allow for one hour on Sunday nights to play three or four tunes from local bands. The whole thing is nonsense and Bon Iver’s speech simply pointed out that nonsense. I mean Dave Grohl’s ridiculous speech about how music is about learning guitar and “he did his album in a garage with a tape machine”? Oh yeah and he conveniently left out the fact that his garage is massive and in a Malibu palace, the tape machine he used was a reel to reel 2″ which probably costs a little over $20,000 and is basically impossible to get anymore and his producer was Butch Vig. Don’t get me wrong I think Dave Grohl is a legend and I have a ton of respect for him, but he might be just a little out of touch and his music is as vanilla as rock and roll gets. “Now I’m gonna scream because I was once hardcore and from DC, now this is a ballad because I have a soft side, here is our rocker….get ready!” That is what every Foo Fighter album sounds like to me. There are thousands of more talented bands out there than The Foo Fighters that will never even get a chance to open for a national act or even get a gig at a crowded bar on a friday night. Trust me, many moons ago I worked for these people that control the industry, they are smarter than you and I. They saw this revolution coming from miles away and they are fully prepared to handle it. Only difference now is their overhead is less, much less! They have undercover interns in every chat room and social media outlet you can imagine. They send out thousands of press kits a day to Pandora, Last FM, Pitchfork, and any indie magazine you can imagine for the bands they have signed. They work overtime to make bands like Paramore or Fall Out Boy look “indie”. Both completely craptacular bands yet huge successes. How in the world can a good local band compete with that on a consistent basis? Has it gotten better? Absolutely, bands like The Black Keys have proven that. But make no mistake the whole thing for the most part is still all about dumb luck on the part of the artist and control and marketing by the industry. I think that was what Bon Iver was talking about. I could be wrong but I really don’t think so and I am not gonna lose any sleep at night for the poor disheveled Sony Music’s, Virgin Record’s, and Atlantic’s of the world. They are doing just fine.

    Reply
    • Feb 16 2012

      Thank you for reading and showing enough interest to comment. If you want more on what Bon Iver was thinking or saying, check out his interview with Spin. I think you are missing the point. I fully understand that major labels still control radio, and still decide who makes money and who doesn’t. But that control will continue to dwindle as fewer and fewer listeners get their tunes from the radio. I was simply trying to point out that Vernon’s comments did nothing to further indie music, nor did they tell anyone anything that we didn’t already know. I don’t know what the Foo Fighters rant has to do with anything, nowhere did I say they are an indie band. But thank you for reading, I hope you’ll continue to do so in the future.
      -Rob

      Reply
      • Feb 16 2012

        I think the point was that there are much better bands out there that perhaps deserve to be grammy winners or garner success or even make a little cash than perhaps the Foo Fighters or Bon Iver or whoever and those bands will never see the light of day. My FF “rant” may have been just that but a valid one it is. Point being the whole thing is ridiculous. Thanks for the link to the Spin article by the way…I only had to go through a lil wayne pop up advertisement to read it. Wait a minute…which major label do you work for?

      • Feb 16 2012

        Haha. Did you read in the article where I said, “I agree wholeheartedly with Bon Iver’s words”? Also, did I say here’s a link to this strictly independent blog Spin? People need to get back to classifying music by the sounds within, not the label on the album. I’m only interested in good music. I don’t care where it comes from.

  2. Feb 19 2012

    Dave Grohl talked about recordred music not having to be perfect. He was inferring to all the pop artists in the audience that auto-tuning will not help their careers in the long run. Also, regarding labels … it’s much better to be signed to a label than going totally independent. Hear me out. I believe this because if an artist is “independent”, he/she makes his/her own vanity production of an album that gets no distribution in stores, has to work hard to make sales while the artist is on tour. Labels help artists book a tour. Labels place the CDs in the stores. Being on a label means you have career. You can make an indie album and use it like a resume. That’s what Rush did. They put out their first album indie style. But once it did well on Cleveland radio, they were able to get signed by a real record company. They have a real career, and tons of fans. They’ve sold tons of albums. And still they are not in the RnR Hall of Shame (which loves to exclude anything progressive rock). As for Bon Ivor — I am pissed that he won. He is not the Best new artist. (Really, I don’t know who is). But Bon Ivor is boring, slow, self-indulgent, pretentious songs that come across as indie elitism. Pure bullcrap.

    Reply
    • Feb 19 2012

      I’m with you on getting a major label deal being a good thing for artists. The current explosion of The Black Keys serves as a good example. Warner handles distribution for their label Nonesuch Records. Fortunately, being from the Midwest I was able to watch firsthand as these guys grew from the ground up. I don’t resent the fact that they have achieved such massive success with Brothers and El Camino. Quite the opposite, I understand that commercial releases like these will finance the rest of their career. The problem with your assessment of Bon Iver (which you misspelled) is that you disqualify his award based on your distaste for slow songs. Slow, thought provoking music shouldn’t be considered for best new artist? We should only reward short, upbeat rock albums? You’re entitled to dislike Bon Iver, but to write his sophomore release off as elitist is wrong. His self-titled album debuted at Number 2 on the Billboard charts and continued to have strong sales throughout 2011. This was not 10 brainy critics deciding what we should all listen to next, it was The Recording Academy responding to the legitimate success of an up-and-coming artist. The fact that his songs don’t translate to you is irrelevant.

      Reply
      • Feb 19 2012

        What’s so “thought-provoking” about Bon Iver’s 2nd album? It had strong sales? Yeah? Who bought it? Not me. If people like whiny depressing crap like Bon Iver, Radiohead, and Joanna Newsom, then the music world (players + listeners) is in terrible trouble. Giving this guy a Grammy just rewarded insipidness. And for an album to debut at #2, or any number on a chart, means nothing to me. Sounds to me like “who you know” in the music business than “what you know”. And — wrong — the music should “translate” to me. I can recognize good material even if I don’t become a fan of it. There’s a lot out there that I know is good, but I will never buy. But I like what you said about the Black Keys. I will defend them.

  3. Feb 19 2012

    A number 2 debut doesn’t effect whether or not I am going to like a project either. However, it most definitely factors into a GRAMMY award for best new artist – the topic we’re discussing. I’m sure The Recording Academy will rush to adopt your policy that all “Best New Artists” must play music that is on the surface joyous and uplifting.

    Reply
  4. Feb 19 2012

    Also, somber and restrained music doesn’t make it inherently depressing. It may depress YOU. There is a difference. My point wasn’t that your opinion is irrelevant, it’s that your reaction to Bon Iver may be different than others. The sales indicate that a sizable number of people gained enjoyment from that release – at least enough to open their wallet.

    Reply
    • Feb 19 2012

      Well, in that case, it’d be nice if groups like Henry Cow or albums like the last one by Peter Gabriel got nominated.

      Reply
  5. Guest
    Aug 26 2012

    The fact that Bon Iver even exists is proof that Clearchannel still brainwashes the masses into listening to what they want them to listen to.

    Reply
    • Aug 26 2012

      Yeah, because ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ was all over Top-40 radio (sarcasm font).

      Reply
      • Guest
        Aug 26 2012

        Bon Iver fans are just another demographic, targeted in different ways. The older I get, the less I think we should flatter ourselves. I’ll admit to hating these guys, but I’ll also admit to being gullible in myriad other ways.

      • Aug 26 2012

        Justin Vernon & Co. write and record their own material, which is released on a small label in my home state: Bloomington’s Jagjaguwar. Now, you’re perfectly entitled to like or dislike their music. But to sit here and pretend that Bon Iver was some focus-group-tested, machine-made sound created in a lab is patently false. That doesn’t mean that Jajaguwar didn’t do an excellent job of marketing their star artist. They most assuredly did, hence the GRAMMY. To lump B.I. in with ClearChannel and the Katie Perry’s of the world is an inaccurate portrayal.

      • Guest
        Aug 26 2012

        Hi, TOT. Your last post made me realize that the way I phrased my initial comment was stupid. I apologize for it. It was not accurate. I still personally believe they are primarily a marketing phenomenon, but any arguments I would make to support my points would be based on cynicism and would not be likely to convince anyone. So allow me to step away and shut my big mouth.

      • Aug 26 2012

        Haha, no apologies necessary! My lone goal for this blog was that it would spark some discussion, intelligent or otherwise. I’m always happy to have somebody slam a post or an artist that we’re covering, because it forces me to rethink things – whether I wind up agreeing or just shaking my head. So keep commenting, otherwise all of us bloggers will just go on thinking that we’re talking to ourselves!
        -Cheers
        -Rob

      • Guest
        Aug 27 2012

        Well, thanks, Rob! Even I am not always tolerant of my paranoid brand of cultural analysis,

        To give credit to B.I., I do think they achieve a good sound. And I agree with the singer’s views on awards. (Not just the idea of it, but the awards themselves. They’re so lame. Seem to me that if a Grammy or Oscar coincides with something good, it’s more or less coincidence.)

        I think my reaction against the band stems from 1) a distaste for the type of stations that play them, 2) the way I came to be aware of them, which seemed like a subtle media maneuver but was probably just chance, and 3) my disenchantment with life, humanity, and the universe.

        I live in WI too, and I have some friends that really like these guys. In fact I was trapped in a vehicle as an entire album played. And believe me, it was nowhere near as unpleasant as, say, being forced to listen to an entire album of Corey Hart.

      • Aug 27 2012

        Now, THAT is a comment. 🙂

  6. Kris
    Sep 25 2012

    Is anyone else reminded of Pearl Jam’s acceptance speech back in 1996? The point Bon Iver made isn’t entirely dissimilar to what PJ said in the same position, over 15 years ago.

    Reply

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