Critics question relevance in digital age



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Mary J. Blige leads the pack of Grammy Award contenders with eight nominations. The awards ceremony airs Sunday night.


As mainstream giants Mary J. Blige and the Red Hot Chili Peppers lead a roster of populist hitmakers in line for a Grammy trophy Sunday, critics are questioning whether there’s any place for the staid ceremony in a time of rapid change for the music industry.

Blige leads the pack with eight nominations, followed by the Chili Peppers with six. Other multiple nominees include the Dixie Chicks, James Blunt and John Mayer.

Canadians in line for a trophy include Nelly Furtado, Neil Young, Sarah McLachlan, Daniel Powter and Michael Buble, who himself raised questions about the show’s format in an off-the-cuff lashing he later retracted last week.

Music critic Bob Lefsetz is quick to unleash an expletive-laden rant on the black-tie gala.

“The Grammys are the industry’s love letter to themselves,” Lefsetz declares from Santa Monica, Calif., where his online Lefsetz Letter routinely rankles for its frank look at the music business.

“It doesn’t reflect what’s really going on. It’s about a TV show ... The TV show is not reflective of the scene and they’re so high and mighty .... It’ll be another trainwreck of a show and the ratings will go down, and they’ll say, ‘Well, it’s because people are stealing music.’ ”

To the Grammys’ credit, organizers do appear to be trying to cater to the online world by inviting them to vote on which aspiring unknown singer should join pop star Justin Timberlake in a Grammy duet.

And then there’s the much heralded reunion by the Police after front man Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers apparently buried the hatchet after a long-running feud.

But with a core fan base of boomers and aging hipsters, an appearance by the ’80s supergroup won’t exactly drag the Grammys into the digital age, says Alan Cross, Toronto host of the syndicated radio show, The Ongoing History Of New Music.

“How many people have been clamouring for a Police reunion?” asks Cross, who speculated the motivation behind the reunion is a pension top-up for Summers, now pushing 65.

It’s record industry moguls that are behind the Grammys’ Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Cross points out, and they most certainly want to drive as many boomers to the record stores as possible.

“Remember what the Grammys are: It’s an awards program done in the first quarter of the new year when retail sales are traditionally the slowest. There’s a reason why we do all the awards shows in January and February and March. It’s because there’s nothing else happening and it’s to stimulate sales and to stimulate attendance at the movie theatres.”