The Feedback Loop is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
Each February millions of Americans gather around their TVs to watch a music award ceremony that very few people take seriously anymore. It’s not news either. The truth is that as the ceremony moves closer and closer in line with mainstream pop music, fewer people out there who do take music seriously have much at stake in the ceremony.
But then there was 2011 — a year when everything seemed to unexpectedly change. It was the year when some no-name band called The Arcade Fire beat out the likes of industry favorites like Katy Perry, Eminem, and Lady Gaga. After Barbara Streisand flubbed the announcement, it almost seemed like a mistake. Even the band seemed shocked. Arcade Fire? The Grammys? Album of the year? Had to be some kind of a mistake.
There were some of us who were filled with a lot of hope on that fateful night in 2011. Not because indie rock is the savior of pop music or because I don’t like Katy Perry — there was hope that the mainstream music industry was finally coming around to embracing some new styles and artists that had something different to bring to the table. But lately I’ve been feeling more and more convinced that 2011 was more of a fluke than anything else — a fluke that wouldn’t bolster favorites of the independent music world, but instead welcome crossover bands like Mumford and Sons, Foster The People, and Fun into the fray. Nothing was more telling that the Grammys didn’t quite get the big picture than when Bon Iver got nominated won the 2012 Grammy for “Best New Artist” when he had already released an extremely popular first album in 2007.
Nonetheless, here we are in 2012 with a new set of nominations for the 81 categories at the Grammys. Most of the year’s big nominations are fairly predictable with artists like Mumford and Sons, Frank Ocean, and Fun getting a lot of love. As much as I would love to see Frank Ocean take the Best Album of the Year award, I could easily see the organization giving him the Best New Artist award and leaving the Album of the Year for the more experienced Mumford and Sons. This, in some ways, I am okay with. I was also pretty impressed with the Grammy’s choices for the Best Alternative Music Album category, which include the likes of Fiona Apple, M83, Tom Waits, and a much under-appreciated Bjork album from last year. Historically, they’ve been good at reaching out in this category, and while Tom Waits and Bjork are easy shoe-ins, it’s nice to see a hard-working band like M83 make the cut.However, the most interesting nomination for me was way down at number 57 on the list of award categories: Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media. While this category doesn’t normally receive a lot of attention, one particular nominee really stood out to me: the original soundtrack for the videogame Journey by Austin Wintory. The breathtaking orchestral score sets the scenes of one of the most visionary games of the year — especially within the indie game scene. It’s ethereal, imaginative, and well-deserved for it’s Grammy nomination. The real reason why I am bringing up Journey is because it is the first videogame to ever be nominated in this category and only the second to ever be nominated in Grammy history — this alone is worth noting.
What really has me excited for the industry and mainstream media’s slow, but gradual acceptance of videogames as a proper artistic medium of expression, is where it is looking for that validation. If the Grammys had nominated a game like Mass Effect 3 or Halo 4 for its soundtrack, I wouldn’t be talking about it right now. In contrast to these blockbuster action titles, Journey is a much quieter game that contains within it a deep sense of spiritual meaning and self-expression. In a game that remains silent for much of its length, the music that Wintory interjects feels organic and natural — a part of the game’s design that seems fundamental to the experience. In other words, when the Grammys were looking to include a videogame in the category of Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, they were looking in the right place.
That gives me a lot of hope — not only for videogames, but also for music and the surrounding mainstream culture. You never know — maybe 2013 will be another 2011.