By now, you all know the exciting news that Arcade Fire won the Grammy for Album of the Year. It was a stunning turn of events that they were even nominated, and I am sure that not one person in that theater thought that they were going to actually win (especially Barbara Streisand, who couldn’t even stutter out The Suburbs). It was a moment that made a lot of Lady Ga Ga and Eminem fans say, “who the hell are they?” a lot of indie kids to say, “what the hell?” and a lot of critics say, “what the hell does this mean?!”
After The Suburbs was nominated for Album of the Year, many critics and commentators began calling this the year that the Grammys embraced indie music. There were more indie labels represented in the nominations than majors, and they were in high profile categories this time, not just the record packaging award. Then, to top it all off, they gave the only award that anyone really cares about to Arcade Fire. Is indie mainstream now? Have the goblins at the Grammys killed a genre and culture with one little gold statue? No, you silly little doomests, that’s not the way this works.
Was indie music dead when Arcade Fire debuted at number 1 or when they sold out Madison Square Garden for two nights in a row (which I know you all went to, I saw you there)? Absolutely not. How can it be dead now that they won the Grammy? The win means a couple things: Merge Records and indie record labels like it are perhaps going to be taken as more serious competition, something that they richly deserve, and some people that would not listen to Arcade Fire otherwise may go out and get their music for the first time.
It’s that last thing that scares indie fans — that more people will like the music we hold so close to ourselves. It’s the fear that perhaps more people will be able to understand our code words, and the culture will be widened and thus weaken. Those people that we laugh at, the ones that we try and get away from by reading buzz blogs and filling our iPods with hard to access music, are being let in. How can we be alternative if what we love is in the mainstream?
Well, the reaction of the pop music fans, the kind who take the Grammy’s seriously, shows that these people are not going to be coming into the culture anytime soon. If anything, the hilarious Tumblr “Who is Arcade Fire”shows that they are more likely to shut out the culture now that the dreaded hipster menace has stolen away the statue from Eminem or Lady GaGa. The people who are going to start exploring the culture are the ones who took the time to look at the award and say, “I haven’t heard of them maybe I should,” not “I haven’t heard of them so they suck.”
The internet provides a medium for great discovery; it has opened up subcultures that were once completely shut off from the world to anyone with a passing interest and connection. The amazing thing that occurred after Arcade Fire’s win was that many people were reminded of this vibrant community and culture just underneath the top soil. New fans now have the knowledge and ability to dig a little deeper and discover more about Arcade Fire and other bands that they may not have found otherwise.
In the end, exclusivity is overrated. Art is made for people to enjoy, to consume. Arcade Fire made a great album, it got recognized by an unlikely source as a great album, and now some kids are listening to a great album for the first time. Watching Arcade Fire take the stage at the Grammys and launch into “Ready to Start”, giddy from their win, warmed my cold, New York hipster heart. It made me feel like I won, like we won. A king ascended, and more will rise in its wake. Indie will never die.
From The Wild Honey Pie, 2/15/2011: http://www.thewildhoneypie.com/what-does-the-arcade-fire-grammy-mean/