Open Letter to John Mayer

Dear John,

I watched the 2011 Grammy’s last night. What has happened to our music culture?

I am glad I kept watching through the first quarter of the show, because it got far better as it went on. But it started out rough because Lady Gaga performed. And more than anything I was confused. I have been for about a year now actually. I’ve listened to her stuff; I enjoy dancing to it about once and then it fizzles out for me. How has she become such a powerful force in the industry? It’s her persona. It goes so far beyond her music. She is all spectacle; rather than just releasing killer dance music and not dressing it up, she promotes her persona through everything she does. It has never seemed to be just about music with her. Releasing a new album isn’t her end product, and unlike musicians in the past who have used their music to promote some sort of social ideal outside of themselves (I don’t need to give you a music lesson here, but Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Comeis the first one that comes to mind), Lady Gaga seems to use her music as one facet of her persona for the end result of promoting herself, but it’s dressed up in the garb of “Be whoever you want to be! For me that means shoulder spikes, fake blood, and dinosaur eggs.” I’ve seen her performances on different televised events and rather than seeming inspirational, it all comes back to her. What would a performance of hers be like without looking like an extra off of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? What would be left of Lady Gaga if you took away all the pomp?

Same with Justin Bieber, but in a different way. Everything I see this kid do seems contrived. His documentary just came out this weekend. Wait, his documentary? He’s sixteen years old. How does this kid deserve to have a documentary? He has no story yet! Someone found a cute young kid on YouTube, realized how well he could be marketed in the right hands, and the gamble paid off. How many sixteen year olds have as much musical talent as Bieber has? Lots of them. And most of them go on to music schools or perform in orchestras or sing in church choirs. I didn’t see any real musicality from him last night, all I saw was some slick dance moves and a baby playing left-handed guitar chords. Not enough, Justin.

What about spectacle done right? Look to Cee Lo’s performance with Gwyneth. I loved it, mainly because they both have the chops to back up how visually grandiose their performance was. They both sounded amazing and it was so much fun to watch. Yeah it was over the top, there was a fake rocket ship on stage and Cee Lo was dressed like a giant rainbow-colored chicken. I laughed each time the back up puppets shushed to keep the performance TV friendly. That’s the kind of spectacle I want to see in our culture. Glam done right, not shock value for shock value’s sake.

I need more of good stuff, like Dylan’s performance with Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers. Sure, Bob Dylan is old and his voice isn’t what it used to be, but he has earned his place on that stage. He gets to go up there and sing whatever he wants and however he wants to. It was great to see an old legend perform with new talent; they looked like they were having a blast.

So here’s why this is penned to you, John. I wish the real talent in our culture produced more. I know real music takes longer to write and produce and output but it’s disheartening to see what a powerful market force Justin Bieber is and how he is dominating everything when all I wish I had was a new Coldplay album or a new album from you. I want less choreography and more playing. I want to see collaboration and creativity in a musical sense, not who can come up with the craziest dress. I loved seeing Raphael Saadiq dancing around on stage with Mick Jagger. I want to see which musicians D’Angelo has back him on his new album and figure out as much about them as I can. I want more albums like The Roots/John Legend’s Wake Up! from this last year. I can’t wait for Adele’s album to come out next week. I know it’s selfish of me as a consumer to demand so much output from the talent, but what is a consumer without a producer?

And ultimately, the Grammy’s weren’t as discouraging as I thought they would be. I cheered when Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist over her tough competition and when Arcade Fire beat out the other huge smash records for Album of the Year. And please don’t stop making music. Your performance with Norah and Keith was my favorite of the night. Rhythmic, sexy, succinct, understated. Such an awesome tribute. And it was nice to know you don’t have the lyrics to Dolly’s entire discography memorized.

-Jon

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Filed under Music, Open Letter, TV shows

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