I write this from Los Angeles as I'm out here covering the Grammys, but my heart remains on London’s Oxford Street.
What doesn’t remain on London’s most famous shopping destination anymore is a big record shop, as HMV’s famous flagship ...
Last year’s Grammy Awards attracted plenty of attention. Sadly, most of it was for all the wrong reasons.
As the ceremony unfolded in New York’s Madison Square Garden, social media was ablaze with criticism of everything from the lack of female artist winners to the seeming omnipresence of Sting.
Assuming organisers have learned from last year’s mistakes – which included Recording Academy president Neil Portnow suggesting female artists need to “step up” – this year’s awards, held in the warmer climes of Los Angeles, should provide an opportunity for a more inclusive event that focuses on the music and turns last year's good intentions into some actual action.
Blockbuster TV awards ceremonies are an endangered species in the US, where demographic and consumption shifts make it ever harder to connect with a mass audience. But they remain one of the best ways to move the dial on a release or an artist, so at least everyone in the industry will be watching as keenly as ever.
The stamp of approval that comes with being able to put “Grammy-winning artist” in front of your name can still prove significant
This year’s crop of British hopefuls are notably younger and fresher than in some years. So (presumably) no Sting this time, but there are nominations for the likes of Ella Mai, Dua Lipa and Jorja Smith. And then there's Bring Me The Horizon; already boosted by scoring a UK No.1 album last week, Raw Power's Matt Ash told Music Week that the Grammy nod is already opening doors for the band Stateside. Imagine what a win could do?
So, while Eminem may famously have rapped that he didn’t give a damn about a Grammy, at a time when new British music is finding it tougher than ever to break through internationally, the stamp of approval that comes with being able to put “Grammy-winning artist” in front of your name can still prove significant.
While TV ratings are in decline – although our own hotly-anticipated BRIT Awards has more than held its own in recent years – the social media that did for the Grammys 2018 can also amplify the performers and speeches that do connect. Get the blend of performances, talking points and winners right – while avoiding tone-deaf errors – and the buzz should follow.
Time, in other words, for the Grammys themselves to step up.
It’s notable that the two most-talked about music releases of the last couple of months – at least if my social media timeline is anything to go by – were both TV documentaries.
Bros’ After The Screaming Stops documentary, made by Fulwell '73 and aired on the BBC over the festive season, was the runaway hit of Christmas sofa-slump viewing, while Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened – an exposé of the grand folly that was Fyre Festival – has been blowing industry minds since it debuted on Netflix.
Bros made everyone laugh – although, to be honest, it mainly made me sad about the ways fame, fame, fatal fame can play hideous tricks on the brain. The idiotic antics of the Fyre crew probably should have made everyone sad too, although the general industry reaction seems to be one of bemused resignation that such things still go on.
Documentaries in general are clearly having a moment and, as the source of many legendary tales, both true and apocryphal, the music industry is always going to be fertile ground for film-makers. They’re also potentially a great platform to reignite interest in an act during the era when labels are focused on 'story-telling' as a way to convert fans of records into fans of artists. How many people were talking about the pop majesty of When Will I Be Famous? after watching Mat and Luke Goss bang on about conkers is perhaps debateable, but at least they've been able to book a Brixton Academy gig off the back of it and make sure the reunion continues.
But there are a couple of things the industry might want to consider in future when documentary-makers beat a path to its door. One, there are surely also great stories to be told about the biz’s amazing highs, not just its depressing lows. (The Oasis documentary, Supersonic, did a decent job of covering both)
And two, if the unpredictability of the music business is its USP for TV and film, where will the subject matter of the future come from? Artists these days spend so long updating their social media profiles and doing their accounts there’s no time to get into the sort of adventures that the next generations will want to hear about. People need freedom to make the odd mistake, albeit preferably not the ones made by the Fyre team.
Otherwise, as another famous rockumentary pointed out, we’re in danger of having too much perspective.