Grammy Awards: Triumph Of The Vulgar

The Grammy Awards were held Sunday night, the music industry’s biggest night of the year. It is well to exam this accurate cultural barometer. The crucial question of interest, which will become apparent as you read, is this: can we recover?

Best rap song was Alright by one Kendrick Lamar, the most feted musician of the night (he won multiple awards). The lyrics of that music? An edited, expurgated sample:

Alls my life I has to fight, nigg*
Alls my life I
Hard times like God
Bad trips like: “God!”
Nazareth, I’m f——d up
Homie you f——d up
But if God got us we then gon’ be alright

Nigg*, we gon’ be alright
Nigg*, we gon’ be alright…

Behind my side we lookin’ at you from the face down
What mac-11 even boom with the bass down
Schemin’! And let me tell you bout my life
Painkillers only put me in the twilight
What pretty p—y and Benjamin is the highlight…

That same gentleman won best rap album of the year with To Pimp a Butterfly, which inter alia contains the song The Blacker the Berry, which angrily informs the listener:

I’m African-American, I’m African
I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village
Pardon my residence
Came from the bottom of mankind
My hair is nappy, my d*** is big, my nose is round and wide
You hate me don’t you?
You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You’re f——‘ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me
And this is more than confession
I mean I might press the button just so you know my discretion
I’m guardin’ my feelins, I know that you feel it
You sabotage my community, makin’ a killin’
You made me a killer, emancipation of a real nigg*

Given the wide scale success of black musicians such as Lamar, including the enormous successes that man and others like him have garnered, plus the near-ubiquitous presence of his weepingly awful music, the plan to “terminate” his “culture” isn’t going well.

Best album Uptown Funk, by somebody called Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. Excerpt of lyrics from the title song (the song is repetitive so this sample is not as small as it seems).

I’m too hot (hot damn)
Called a police and a fireman
I’m too hot (hot damn)
Make a dragon wanna retire man…

Come on, dance
Jump on it
If you sexy than flaunt it
If you freaky than own it
Don’t brag about it, come show me
Come on, dance
Jump on it
If you sexy than flaunt it
Well it’s Saturday night and we in the spot
Don’t believe me just watch…

The song of the year was Thinking Out Loud by an Ed Sheeran, a song fashioned more along classical pop lines, with only a touch of innuendo, a splash of narcissism:

When my hair’s all but gone and my memory fades
And the crowds don’t remember my name
When my hands don’t play the strings the same way (mmm…)
I know you will still love me the same…

Rock and roll was not missing. The best rock song was from a group called Alabama Shakes, with Don’t Wanna Fight. The song’s lyrics, but at least they were easy to memorize:

I don’t wanna fight no more [x6]

No, no, no, no!

I don’t wanna fight no more [x7]
I don’t wanna fight, I don’t wanna fight!
I don’t wanna fight no more [x8]

Reminiscent of the subtlety of the Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand, no?

The language used in these, and in many other well received songs, is, though it is difficult to tell, a corrupted form of English. I have studied this argot and have discovered the best way to learn it is the same way to learn to play popular music: stop the lessons early.

It’s true, you will say, and as your grandparents as their grandparents before them said, that vulgar music has always been with us. The difference is that now the triumph of the vulgar is complete. Go almost anywhere and low music with cant lyrics will be heard: it cannot be escaped. Even the Grammy’s best “classical” instrumental solo was won for an ugly, atonal song (here is a version, by another player and not by the winner, whom I could not find). Beauty is absent. Worse, and the reason the answer to the question which I asked at the beginning is No, is that those who know better refuse to speak out, fearful of being called elitist or—the worst calumny possible—“racist”. Cowardice explains much.

Perhaps the rot is only in the lyrics. Perhaps the music itself has redeeming qualities? There, dear reader, you will have to excuse me. I entered into YouTube the best dance/electronic album, which was from Skrillex and Diplo, Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack U, the lead song of which was Don’t Do Drugs Just Take Some Jack U. Unfortunately, I was able to listen to it.

My doctor advises me that the effects should be temporary and can be cured by steady application of the balm of beautiful music. I chose Boccherini’s La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid, which for your ease and edification I linked at the top of this post. I chose this version because a snippet of the piece was included in the disappointing movie Master and Commander, a movie based on the greatest novel (in twenty volumes) in the English language by Patrick O’Brian.


  1. Gary

    We sit by and watch the barbarian. We tolerate him in the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles.
    – Hilaire Belloc

  2. DAVE

    The golden era of pop music (rock and roll) has been gone for 25 years. It’s all just noise now. I feel sorry for the younger generations. They think this crap is actually good. RIP, Glenn Frey.

  3. Who needs to terminate black culture when they are committing suicide with award winning music? Between that an abortion, they’re doing the job for the whites.

    Destroying beauty and replacing it with vulgar, dividing the people along class lines and race—all time honored ways to create a dictatorship of despair in a country. Worked every time and throughout history. People want no rules—they want anarchy. Usually they get what they asked for…..

    We are back again to the selfish greed and nastiness of a society that loves only itself—not its children, not future generations, not the guy down the street. A society where the leaders and rich entertainers care only for themselves and hate all others is going to end poorly. Yet, when it could be stopped, people did not. I have to conclude that death of society is what the American people desperately want. They are doing everything they can to achieve it and nothing to stop it.

  4. Nate

    Going to have to disagree (in part).

    There are many artists making amazing music on the edges, and have been doing so for years. Progressive Metal/Rock makes significant use of many instruments, and the artists are often virtuosos. Neil Peart of Rush is probably the best drummer of the age (witness the immensity of his set). John Petrucci of Dream Theater is possibility the most technically skilled guitarist ever. Robert Fripp of King Crimson does some incredible things with time signatures.

    There are many incredibly talented musicians today. One can appreciate the greats of the past but also recognize that not all modern music is awful.

  5. James


    I had similar thoughts to yours (but with respect to electronic music), but I think that the issue is that the current culture’s pedestals aren’t being filled with anything other than the vulgar.

    There are lots of things to enjoy that are modern and not vulgar. No one is celebrating them in the mainstream, though.

  6. Briggs


    Certainly there are examples of the beautiful. That’s what the leading video is.

  7. Briggs


    Apropos. “Prole Models” (pdf).

    The language and thought are drawn from a chapter of “A Study of History,” entitled “Schism in the Soul,” in which Toynbee discusses the disintegration of civilizations. He observes that one of the consistent symptoms of disintegration is that the elites—Toynbee’s “dominant minority”—begin to imitate those at the bottom of society. His argument goes like this:

  8. Radical egalitarianism, and the “elites” who lit this fuse all live in highly-protected walled compounds and travel in circles where they never have to suffer the consequences of the societies they’ve wrecked.

  9. Ah, rap music. The height of articulate expression. Really by Modern standards, the Grammys going to this isn’t wrong in any sense.

  10. Nate

    Briggs, love Murray’s work. Did you have a chance to read his latest? Essentially I think he has decided that we’re doomed.

  11. Ron in Austin

    I have a friend who is convinced that the (c)rap music industry’s sole purpose is to launder drug money.

  12. Joy

    I love the master and command piece but rap?
    No, nothing like the Beatles! obviously.
    Inter alia Rap is not music. All rap is bad.

    “make a dragon wanna retire”. what? That’s about the worst and funniest line I’ve heard for ages. “voiceover“ flatters it, no doubt.

    There are modern composers which still aren’t like Mozart I admit but they seem to be in a different class.
    “Ennio Morricone – Here’s to You (In Concerto – Venezia”
    Is repetitive, and yet surprising it isn’t always bad because it repeats. I don’t know who Nicola or Bert are but the performance hooked me anyway. Cinema Paradiso is my favourite of his. Nella fantasia set to vocals.

    I don’t let rap or similar impinge, listen the other way and move away from unpleasant sounds. The best music lives forever.

    “Whatever!” Queen of the night from The Magic Flute.

  13. JohnK

    For those who like to listen to covers of the American Popular Song Book (all the way from sultry takes on ‘Tea for Two’, to swinging versions of ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face’) by singers “… from Frank Sinatra to Michael Buble … from Ella Fitzgerald to Diana Krall … from Bobby Darin to Steve Tyrell … Dean Martin, Renee Olstead, Billie Holiday and so many more …”, try here:

    It will make you feel better.

  14. Peterh

    No one seems ready to take you up on “the greatest novel in the English language ( in 20 volumes )”, but with the important bracketed qualifier, I’m with you.

    Taking the qualifier away, what’s your pick?

  15. Joy

    Vivaldi was forgotten for two hundred years.
    He also had a rediscovery of manuscripts.
    So the best music never dies. There’s always fresh appreciation even if some grow tired of hearing the music. As for lack of appreciation of beautiful music, the proms concert has now spilled out into hyde park and no one, for no amount of money can buy tickets. All have to go into a draw and agree as well to buy tickets for more than one night I think it was six.
    All art, literature, film and drama, architecture,music, sculpture, have taken the shorter and shorter route to payday. This together with secularism and with that loss of romance. I do believe this is something which will revert.
    When Elgar was asked about composing as if he turned out work easily. He said,
    “It’s a lot of hard work”. The impression was that this was the main factor, inspiration, revelation and time were not enough.

  16. Paul W

    This came about when MTV threw it’s newness behind hiphop back in the 80s. That accelerated the decay of music. Simply sampling real musicians and having no musical aptitude or understanding of musical theory but being able to rhyme words(something we learn in gradeschool) while degrading women became “talent” or “art”.

    Now, unfortunately MTV has moved its focus to making sure as many teenagers get pregnant as possible.

  17. Chronus

    Here was my introduction to Bruno Mars and “Uptown Funk” and I hope you will enjoy it (otherwise I would not have bothered). Volume is adjustable to personal taste.
    I also marvel at how much creativity is loose in this world.

  18. Francsois

    A few of the albums in my collection come from recommendations Briggs made in the past. Thanks Briggs!

  19. Jose Garcia

    America has lost her soul. We are entering an American version of the Dark Ages.

  20. DAV

    When Elgar was asked about composing as if he turned out work easily. He said,
    “It’s a lot of hard work”. The impression was that this was the main factor, inspiration, revelation and time were not enough.

    Not much different than when designing software. The preliminary design takes inspiration. Fleshing it out takes a lot of work — some of it hard. Maybe this is what Elgar meant.

    Speaking of Elgar, I primarily played clarinet when I was in the high school band. When I was a junior we played the Trio section “Land of Hope and Glory” of March No. 1 for graduation — continuously for three hours. That morning I had gotten a split lip from a baseball.Trio has a lot of very long notes that require a tightened lip. Ir was a painful three hours. For some reason, ever since, I’ve a dislike of Elgar’s compositions and; consider them mostly circumstantial pomp.

  21. Joy

    I think it helps to be British but what about Nimrod? or his Cello concerto? Elgar wasn’t happy , initially, about the song being fitted to the march. IT and music seem to go together. As for orchestral composition I think Elgar was admitting that it didn’t come easy as it seems. Would you be in an orchestra if they promised not to make you play Elgar?
    The suite from the Victorian Kitchen Garden. by Paul Reade is a more peaceful option.

  22. Këzman

    Old (and reactionary) man yells at cloud

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