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An indie look at the Grammys

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

The 55th Annual Grammy Awards are right around the corner, and music fans everywhere are pumping up to see the flashy performances and celebrities and, of course, find out who takes home the coveted gilded gramophone. This year, though, there is a striking rise in the number of nominations claimed by bands or artists who deem themselves independent or alternative.

The trend arguably began in 2011 when Arcade Fire, who up until then was little known, walked away with a Grammy for Album of the Year for their album “The Suburbs.” They snagged the award away from such competitors as “The Fame Monster” by Lady Gaga, “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry, “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum and “Recovery” by Eminem. Fans were shocked, not only because such eminent albums had lost, but also because they had lost to a band that seemed to appear out of nowhere (even though the band has actually been active since 2001).

The Grammy Award for Best New Artist has also been awarded to unfamiliar artists in the past two years. In 2011 the award was given to Esperanza Spalding, an extremely talented – albeit relatively unknown – jazz bassist and singer. Her low public profile can best be exemplified by the fact that she was awarded in 2011 for being the “best new artist” when she has been an active recording artist since 2000. Spalding’s win made her the first jazz musician to ever win the award, and she beat out contenders such as Justin Bieber for it.

Indie-folk artist Bon Iver’s reception of the Best New Artist award in 2012 also shocked many. He won over such nominees as Skrillex , The Band Perry and Nicki Minaj, who are all artists with much more radio play and larger audiences. Justin Vernon, the lead singer and arguably the core of the group, even acknowledged the oddity of his win due to his independent style and attitude in his acceptance speech.

“It’s really hard to accept this award. There’s so much talent out here ... and there’s a lot of talent that’s not here tonight,” he said. “It’s also hard to accept because, you know, when I started to make songs I did it for the inherent reward of making songs, so I’m a little bit uncomfortable up here.” Bon Iver also took up the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album that night.

Looking at the list of 2013 Grammy nominees, it is easy to see that there are many bands and artists that have seemed to appear out of the woodwork. They rose from relative anonymity to becoming nominees for the most prestigious music awards. Such artists as Gotye, The Black Keys, Jack White, fun, Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers all have backgrounds in the indie-genre, whether it be indie folk, pop or rock. Yet this did not hinder them from receiving a Grammy nomination.

Is independent music on the rise? Is popularity for the “hidden” artists growing in the United States? The Grammy recipients of the past few years in such eminent categories as Best New Artist and Album of the Year seem to support this notion. It is unclear whether the pattern of surprise wins from artists with little radio play and presence in the media will continue this year. However, if the list of nominees is any indication, there is a good chance that on Feb. 10, 2013 on CBS at 8 p.m. there may be some surprises in store for music fans when the most popular artists of the day and those who dominate the Top 20 charts lose to bands with humbler beginnings and presence.

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