Beck and Beyoncé
For starters, I don’t pay any attention to the Grammy Awards. I think the last time I watched was when Milli Vanilli beat out Living Colour for best new artist. The Grammys generally don’t bother with music I enjoy, so I don’t bother with them. This year there was apparently a bit of controversy when Beck won Album of the Year over Beyoncé and Kanye West said something about it. I have not heard either album. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve heard a Beck song in about 20 years and I’m pretty sure the only Beyoncé song I’ve ever heard was her singing the Star Spangled Banner at some sporting event. So, I’m not planning on commenting on who deserved the award. My guess is none of the 20-30 best albums of the year were even nominated. What I do want to comment on is this meme that’s been floating around since.
The first time I saw it, I felt a flash of annoyance, but it has only gotten worse since. If you didn’t follow the link, it is simply saying that Beck is a better artist because he wrote all of the songs on his album and played 16 different instruments while Beyoncé played zero instruments and had 16 songwriters and producers on her album. I almost did this as one of my Logic 101 posts because this is a perfect example of a non sequitor. The number of instruments played and the number of songwriters and producers have nothing to do with the quality of the music. The conclusion simply does not follow from the premise.
That was my first reaction, and I stand by it. But the next time I saw the meme, I had the thought that Beyoncé does sing on her album (at least I’m assuming she does, as I said, I haven’t listened to it). So, this meme is saying that the singer doesn’t matter in any way to the album. That’s an awfully weird way to think about music.
Then, the next time I saw it, I realized how ridiculous it would look if we keep the basic facts the same, but changed out Beyoncé. For example, let’s say that Sinatra at the Sands, Frank Sinatra’s classic 1966 recording with the Count Basie Orchestra, is used in place of Beyoncé. Sinatra plays zero instruments and needed 29 songwriters and producers to make that record. Or how about Ella In Berlin: Mack the Knife? On that record, the First Lady of Song needed 16 songwriters and producers and played zero instruments. What does that say about artistry? And don’t get me started about Sir Georg Solti. He won more Grammys that anyone (literally) and all he did was stand there and wave his arms around.
I know I shouldn’t even notice this stuff, let alone let it bother me, but, I can’t help it. Most music is collaborative. Most albums require many people. This shouldn’t be seen as a problem. We should just be happy when these collaborations produce good music.