Arcade Fire Wins 'Album of the Year' - But Is That A Good Thing?

Categories: Rebuttal
arcade-fire12.jpg
Arcade Fire
It's been less than twenty-four hours since Arcade Fire's amazingly good album The Suburbs won 'Album of the Year' at this year's Grammy Awards. Frankly, I'm still a little shocked that the Grammys got it right for once. When I first heard that the band was nominated I thought for sure that they were a long shot at best.

Not that The Suburbs didn't deserve to win -- I listed it as my favorite album of 2010 -- but considering they were going up against mega-stars like Eminem, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry I thought that, based on popularity alone, it would go to one of those three.

This is the first time an indie band, like Arcade Fire, has ever won Album of the Year and if I had to guess I'd say that every four out of five people who watched the Grammys last night had never heard of the band before. And judging by this website that popped up shortly after bands win, there were more than a few people who didn't agree with the decision. But my guess is that this is nothing but good news for the band. Their fan base, which is already pretty substantial, will probably double or triple, and they will make their inevitable move towards the mainstream. Which is okay, really, because if there is one band who I am not concerned at all about losing their artistic integrity, no matter how popular they get, it is Arcade Fire.

While Arcade Fire winning 'Album of the Year' is a pretty big deal I think the more interesting thing to come out of last night is the question: What Happens Next? Does this ultimately help or hurt indie rock?

The video for Arcade Fire's song "The Suburbs."


Personally, I'd like to think and hope it's the former. I'd like to think that somewhere in Phoenix right now, someone who owns a radio station is thinking that, given an indie band won a Grammy, maybe an indie rock radio station wouldn't be such a bad idea for this city after all. I'd like to think that somewhere someone has stopped listening to Nickelback and is now listening to Arcade Fire. I'd like to think that someone who is listening to Katy Perry right now is performing a Google search on Arcade Fire and will come across a music blog that will expose them to other extremely talented indie acts like Tennis or Smith Westerns.

And while I hope all of these things happen, my fear is that more mainstream exposure could ultimately hurt the genre. One of the great things about indie rock is that it's music that is produced independently and avoids all the trappings of corporate rock. Historically there have been a number of bands who have gone from good to bad largely in part to their inclusion into the mainstream.

I don't think there is any better example of this than Kings of Leon. Music writers love to make fun of Kings of Leon thanks to the fact that they are the poster children for selling out. But did you know that they use to be a really good band? I mean really good and a personal favorite of mine. The band's first three albums Youth and Young Manhood, Aha Shake Heartbreak, and Because of the Times are some seriously good records. But then came Only By the Night and before you knew it you're pulling your hair out because everywhere you turn they're playing "Use Somebody."

We've already started to see Vampire Weekend start down this slippery slope and The Black Keys seem to be right behind them. It would be a pretty big bummer to see more artists head down this path. I can almost see a meeting right now where some record executive is telling the guys from Animal Collective that, "we all really love your music but we think that if we get you with the right producer you could be the next big thing." Next thing you know they're doing commercial for Poore Brother potato chips switching up the words to the song "Brother Sport" to say "Poore Brothers" instead of "sports brothers."

Of course, I could just be thinking worst case scenario here and in reality people will complain about Eminem not winning 'Album of the Year' for the next few days and things will go back to the status quo. This might be in the end the best case scenario.

What do you guys think? Is Arcade Fire winning 'Album of the Year' a good thing or bad thing for indie rock?

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24 comments
Annoyed
Annoyed

Because a band become hugely popular, does NOT make them sell-outs.

Michael Escoto
Michael Escoto

No, it doesn't, but changing the way you look and sound because you're trying to sell more records does.

Brianskinder
Brianskinder

Exactly. Listen to Aha Shake Heartbreak and you hear a completely original album, now put in Only by the Night and you can barely differentiate it from every other piece of trash on the radio.

David Blakeman
David Blakeman

Yeah, except not at all. There's no such thing as a "completely original album". Art is not made in a vacuum and it's really ignorant to think that influence-free creation exists. Only By The Night is a great album. So is Aha Shake Heartbreak. I'm sorry you don't like it because you heard some teenage girl singing "Sex On Fire" right after you heard it and that makes you mad. I listened to KOL when they came out too. That doesn't make me more legit than you and that doesn't make those older albums in any way superior to their more recent work. Sure, I don't care for it as much as I used to, but it is by no stretch of the imagination a "piece of trash".

psykosteve
psykosteve

I see no downside. If anything more acts will think "wait I don't have to cave to the main stream? I can be that successful without it?"

The old model used to be the main stream ignored a genera till it's sales got so big they had to pay attention (think Grunge or even Rap). But today record sales alone will NEVER get a band like Arcade Fire to a level where the main stream has to open up to them. Radio look at AF sales numbers and can still pass. They can still say "its a neitch thing." Radio ignored Nirvana until AFTER they saw the sales numbers. Then that opened the doors for so many behind. Today Arcade Fire sales numbers are not creating opportunities for bands behind them in the same way.

Maybe a Grammy will start to change that.

anon
anon

First of all the Grammy's don't mean a thing. For god's sake, Taylor Swift won album of the year last year. It doesn't mean Arcade Fire is going to "sell out". Remember this summer when they sold out Madison Square Garden and they had their concert live streamed to millions on Youtube. They've been a pretty big band for a while. I'd say since Neon Bible came out a few years ago and the sub-headlined Coachella that year.

All this win speaks for is the credibility of indie labels. It will do nothing to indie music itself.

By the way, Vampire Weekend's last album was way better than their debut. Yeah sure, they're a little bit bigger than before, but does that mean they're starting to suck???

Oh, and Kings of Leon were never good and were never indie. They've been on RCA their entire career. Do your research dude.

Mike Escoto
Mike Escoto

Well, anon, I actually wrote that I wasn't worried about Arcade Fire selling out, no matter how big they got.

And I never actually said that VW sucks. I actually think they're really good. But I don't think the second album was nearly as good as there first and it probably had to do with them trying to sound more mainstream.

Also, I believe KoL's first three records were released via Hand Me Down Records which was a division of RCA.

Chase
Chase

Yeah, I think you missed the bigger picture here, Mike. I think this win might say more about Merge Records than Arcade Fire's artistic "corruptibility." When they won, I wondered if this was a larger sign that the music industry is finally recognizing the indie label business model as a viable one for large acts, not just niche ones. Arcade Fire are not the first act on an independent label to get a Grammy nod (lots of jazz and gospel has been relegated to indies, for obvious reasons), but it could be the first sign of a fragmented, struggling industry learning to change with the tide and adapt to an audience that behaves nothing like they did a decade ago.

OR, it could also very well be a total fluke and mean just as much jack-shit as the Grammys usually signify. At least the nice Canadian guys on our team won, right?

Also, artistic integrity is a really hard thing to pin down, especially these days. Stay away from the term "sell-out," it's only used by mall punks.

Runyon Colie
Runyon Colie

Wait, the fact that Vampire Weekend and The Black Keys are making money is a bad thing for indie? You're too obsessed with the idea of selling out - as long as these bands keep making fantastic records who cares about their label status and popularity?

Brianskinder
Brianskinder

The point being made is that once some bands that make solid indie albums start realizing the money to be made making stupid songs like 'Holiday' that can get played on commercials for an entire winter season the rest of their songs tend to follow suit thus ruining another band.

nathanzadworny
nathanzadworny

If someone wants to sell out, they'll sell out. It doesn't matter whether it's someone who had a long-respected indie career and just ran out of ideas (like R.E.M.), or someone who was gunning for stardom and used indie to get there (like Liz Phair, almost). What matters is the integrity of the artist/band, and it seems to me Arcade Fire have no lack of integrity.

joe.distort
joe.distort

it isnt good or bad for independent music at all...it is probably great for the current wave of used-to-be-indie-but-are-already-on-the-cusp-of-playing-big-tours bands.

the only thing this is bad for is a bunch of people who can now no longer claim to like bands that have been welcomed by THE ESTABLISHMENT, MAAAAAAAN. if they are worried about bands being co-opted, listen to something that is a cacophony of noise/screaming.

lite indie rock is very palatable to the average person, so none of this should be shocking to those that actually follow music (as opposed to people that seriously claim to not know who THE ARCADE FIRE are) (i mean, cmon. i listen to 90% blast beat grind core and i am painfully aware of them. shit, i have this lp on my ipod due to my lady downloading it. its not like they are hard to hear about)

David Blakeman
David Blakeman

This article is incredibly naive and uninformed.

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

Agreed

Phoenix New Times
Phoenix New Times

tl;dr

Seriously, though, I think you guys did not actually read this piece but rather saw one or two lines and reacted....

As Michael said: "because if there is one band who I am not concerned at all about losing their artistic integrity, no matter how popular they get, it is Arcade Fire."

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

I read the piece. I read for a living. The fear of indie being co-opted is out of control. I read what Mike said, and I empathized with his POV. Labels co-opting what is popular is not new. It happened with grunge.

Michael Escoto
Michael Escoto

Craig, like I said in the post..."if there is one band who I am not concerned at all about losing their artistic integrity, no matter how popular they get, it is Arcade Fire."

But you are right in that just because a band is mainstream doesn't mean that they are bad. However, I do think they can go from good to bad when they try to change their formula to fit in with what they think is mainstream. Like Kings of Leon.

I think what I was really trying to say here was that my fear was that the additional exposure from this win would make record labels think that they all need an indie band on their label. Or, worse yet, what they perceive as indie.

Michael Escoto
Michael Escoto

How exactly is it naive and uninformed? It's very easy to say it is and not offer an explanation of why.

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

The indie-rock freak-out that happens after any band of that lineage gets an extra critical and public push is getting hilarious. The concept of selling out is old. Once you leave the practice space and sell ANYTHING you have sold out. Why were people not more offended when Arcade Fire played that huge show on YouTube sponsored by a credit card company?

"And while I hope all of things happen, my fear is that more mainstream exposure could ultimately hurt the genre. One of the great things about indie rock is that it's music that is produced independently and avoids all the trappings of corporate rock. Historically there have been a number of bands who have gone from good to bad largely in part to their inclusion into the mainstream."

Bands don't go bad because they go mainstream. Maybe they were bad all along. Not every band is a lifer band. Some achieve their best early on, and that's a fact. I am not personally offended by that. It's life.

Swearing an allegiance to any genre, including indie-rock, hardcore, punk, rap, hip-hop, country, is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Twisted Tidings
Twisted Tidings

Now that's a good question... I was disappointed that they won, actually. I usually assume that Grammy Awards are just about pop music, so if any of the other contenders had won, I could go on thinking that Grammy's just missed the great indie music that's out there. But with Arcade Fire's win, it makes me wonder: why not nominate LCD Soundsystem, Deerhunter, or James Blake? The excuse is gone-- the Suburbs is excellent, but only one of the best records, indie or not, that came out last year.

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