‘No guitars in sight’ at R&B-heavy Grammys

On top: Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars were nominated for the most awards (21 in total).

Is the era of the guitar finally over? For years, the Grammy Awards have been criticised for sidelining diverse artists in hip hop and rap music. Last night, however, the tables were turned.

“The Grammys have often been been laughably out of touch,” said a Rolling Stone critic last week. At the first ceremony, in 1959, they ignored the rock’n’roll stars transforming music forever. In recent years, they have been criticised for not honouring enough hip hop and R&B artists.

But at last night’s ceremony, things had changed. Rappers Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar were nominated for the most awards, and the main categories were dominated by hip hop. In fact, there was “an almost total absence of rock,” noted The Guardian.

NPR went further: “Where are the guitars?” it asked. It was not just rock — “guitar-driven pop” and country were also missing.

The head of the Recordings Academy, which decides the awards, said this year’s nominees were “a true reflection of the culture and where music is today.” Does that mean the age of the guitar is over?

The instrument has been the main sound of rock, punk and pop music since the 1950s.

Yet according to the Washington Post, in the last decade electric guitar sales have plummeted by a third. It blamed the “slow, secret death” of guitars on the lack of “guitar heroes” inspiring young people to learn.

Has a new, stringless era begun?

‘My guitar gently weeps’

Yes, say some — and it’s about time. Music has never been about just one instrument. It is right that institutions like the Grammys reflect that and celebrate it. Mourning some “golden age” in music just means you miss what is happening right in front of you.

Maybe that is true for music critics, argue others — but in the real world, the guitar is still king. It instantly offers rhythm and melody, it can be played alongside singing, and it is quick to learn. As one fanzine put it in the 1970s: “This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band.”

You Decide

  1. Are guitars still cool?

Activities

  1. Create a timeline showing what you think are the most important developments in music since 1959.

Some People Say...

“I'm sure if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be doing classic guitar solos on YouTube.”

Peter Capaldi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Last night the 60th Grammy Awards took place in New York City, returning there after 14 years in Los Angeles. The winners are chosen by voting members of the Recordings Academy, who are drawn from across the music industry.
What do we not know?
Whether guitar music is really “dying” — after all, the Grammy Awards are not necessarily the best marker of what music will be popular.

Word Watch

Rock’n’roll
A style of music that emerged in the late-1940s and early-1950s, originally starting with multiple black artists (there is no real consensus on who was the “first” to invent the genre).
Missing
One notable exclusion from the three main categories (record, song, and album of the year) was guitar-playing singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. However, he was nominated in two of the pop categories.
A third
The newspaper says that annual guitar sales have dropped from 1.5 million per year to one million per year in a decade.

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