Grammys: Daft Punk, 'Saturday Night Fever' and Why Disco Never Dies
Trying to look into the future, the Grammy Awards ceremony keeps running into its past.
You may have thought disco died when Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl blew up all those Donna Summer and Trammps albums on the field of Bill Veeck’s Comiskey Park in July 1979, but you’d be wrong.
The era of Bianca Jagger riding a white horse into Studio 54 and the glittery half- moon with the coke spoon was just waiting for a revival, and this year, French techno duo Daft Punk did just that with a brilliantly orchestrated marketing (and let’s not forget musical) campaign that landed the daffy robots two of Grammy’s biggest awards: record of the year for "Get Lucky" and album of the year for Random Access Memories.
It's the first ostensible dance record to win the top award since Saturday Night Fever took the prize in 1979, one of four it hauled that year. The other albums up for the award that year included Barry Manilow’s Even Now, the Grease soundtrack, Jackson Browne's Running on Empty and Some Girls by the Rolling Stones, who actually won a Grammy this year for their Charlie Is My Darling reissue and were nominated for best rock song (where they lost to Paul McCartney's collaboration with Nirvana, "Cut Me Some Slack").
Complaining about the Grammys -- which seems to be a popular sport, judging by the harshness of the comments in the Twittersphere -- is like complaining about the weather. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Music, of course, is in the ears of the beholder, and every individual pop fan is a self-styled expert when it comes to their own tastes -- both what they love and what they hate.
The Grammys -- with its dizzying set of musical genres and categories -- tries to be all things to all people, and in so doing, manages to disappoint almost everyone. No, this is not your father’s Grammy Awards -- not with relative newcomers like Lorde, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar and Kacey Musgraves playing such dominant roles, even if the Recording Academy’s self-styled attempt to mix the old and the new sometimes smacks of desperation (Robin Thicke and Chicago, anyone?).
When you begin to analyze Messrs. Thomas Bangalter and Guy De Homem-Christo's victories, you realize that both Random Access Memories and "Get Lucky" perfectly summed up the Grammy ideal -- mixing elder statesmen (Nile Rodgers, Paul Williams, Giorgio Moroder) with impressive young talent (Panda Bear, DJ Falcon, Chilly Gonzales, Todd Edwards) into a smooth whole that more often than not teetered over the line into soporific "Wave"-styled smooth jazz.
Even the pair’s robot gear -- dubbed shtick by some, and, as one person noted, oddly reminiscent of the Residents’ giant eye masks -- played into the Recording Academy’s celebration of the anonymous makers of music who work far from the glare of the superstar spotlight. In the end, though, music is music, whether purveyed by 17-year-olds with purple fingers from New Zealand or a group of 70-year-olds still singing of "not smoking marijuana in Muskogee." Time stops for no man -- or woman, as evidenced by even Madonna forced to use a cane for her segment -- but music is still a powerful emotional connection that transcends words and even reason. When it connects -- say Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar, or Daft Punk with Stevie Wonder -- the sentiments of "Get Lucky" ring true to the very marrow of our being, the transcendent quality of song that allows our spirit to be reborn. "Like the legend of the phoenix/All ends with beginnings/What keeps the planet spinning/The force from the beginning."
Not even a Grammy ceremony that often cut away from its most exciting moments to sell us something can take that purity away.