Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A vision of the future: first reflections on the Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards have passed, and I will have more postings to come: on examples of world music in the many Grammy categories; on this year's winners in the specific categories of world music; on M.I.A. and her place in world music; and on musical and other aspects of the ads which punctuated the ceremony itself.

To begin, though, perhaps I should explain the exuberance (I was, after all, an English major in a previous younger incarnation) in my first posting during the show itself on Sunday night. Somehow this was the first time I had ever watched the entire Grammy Awards, and the extraordinary sequential bursts of energy, color, light, motion, and musical sound throughout the highly produced performance stood in stark contrast to the serious and mostly gloomy flow of nightly news reports that I have been watching, perhaps too obsessively, in recent months.

There has been some characterization in the media of the post-election period as beginning an era that is "post-racial" and "post-partisan"; these characterizations have also been met with varying degrees of skepticism, and for good reason: the country, the society simply cannot be transformed overnight. Yet I found in the human configurations of the Grammies a deeply moving demonstration of trends that may already be said to be evolving toward a post-racial and post-gender consciousness.

I think it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the performances in the Awards ceremony beautifully embodied a meeting, even melding of artists black and white, male and female, in which differences of race and gender not only became insignificant, but in which the success of collaborations between individuals of diverse backgrounds and identities offers an eloquent expression of the possibility of our nation and our culture achieving a true unity in diversity. The fact that a male-female duo garnered the most number of awards (not to mention the fusion of rock and country/folk sensibilities) attests to this trend.

And I lost count of the number of occasions in which black and white musicians, old masters and young, were performing together, effortlessly fusing differences of musical style and language idiom into a truly successful artistic synergy. And the envelope-nudging of gender-related issues in Katy Perry's saucy rendition of "I kissed a girl--I liked it," as well as the exuberant performance of Sri-Lankan-born rapper M.I.A. in unabashed full-term pregnancy, are precursors to a further challenge to stereotypes and norms. (Various versions of the Awards performances, including those just mentioned, may be found on You-Tube.)

I would like to think that at this stage in the evolution of American society, our artists--musicians in this case--will continue to play an essential role not only in defining, but in helping to shape our future cultural and social development into a true pluralism which recognizes the equal importance of different identities, both individual and group. And this year's Grammy Awards--in scenarios which on more than one occasion presented the artist both as a small, lone figure singing far below the camera in a spotlit circle in the darkness, as well as one of many participants in brilliantly staged and choreographed multi-level ensemble numbers--awakened in this viewer's heart a genuine sense of hope for the future of America, and of the world.

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