Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another blinkered music exec

Steve Stoute is a music business exec who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, railing against the Grammys' sponsoring organization, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), for using big-name artists like Justin Bieber and Eminem to promote the show, but then snubbing those artists in the final balloting. He elaborated on his letter in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

Stoute's most compelling argument is that the Grammys broadcast is designed with foreknowledge of the results:
For me, it wasn't Arcade Fire winning that was the problem, it was them performing twice. After the backstage moment, the production was set for them to perform again. But if Eminem had won, would he have performed again? That's when it was, like, "This is fake now."
His point appears to be that the show's producers knew Arcade Fire would win Album of the Year, and designed the broadcast to allow them to perform twice because of that fact. That's a serious but at least credible charge.

On the other hand, Stoute, a "marketing executive" according to the THR piece, seems to be laboring under the same "profits equals merit" delusion that motivated so many of the more boneheaded criticisms of Arcade Fire in the wake of its win.
The intent [of the ad] was to point out that the popular artists are used to sell the show and to get ratings. In fact, NARAS publicized that it was the highest rated Grammys since 2001, yet those same artists are not getting the critical recognition they deserve. The Grammys didn't use Esperanza Spalding in the promos to sell the show. They used Justin Bieber and Eminem. Yet Eminem, who's nominated for 10 awards, doesn't win Album of the Year. Arcade Fire does.
"I sold ten million albums so my album must be great." I'm getting tired of pointing out what a stupid argument that is. You can't correlate popularity with quality: the two might be linked, but there is no guarantee they are. (Frito-Lay sells tens, maybe hundreds of millions of bags of snacks annually, but no one is going to hold up their products as haute cuisine.) Yet Stoute seems to believe that sales are a direct measure of quality.

Or he really thinks that Eminem made a qualitatively better album than Arcade Fire but won't come out and say so. Why wouldn't he say that if that's what he believes? Maybe he thinks that would make him sound bitter rather than justifiably aggrieved. After all, quality is in the ear of the listener, but sales figures are hard facts that anyone can understand.

I don't know and I don't care what Stoute actually believes. I really don't. All I care about is that a lot of people are making noises that confuse popularity with quality. Enough.

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