Arcade Fire Wins Best Album Of The Year. Why It Doesn't Matter.


Hipster hypocrisy was in full swing last night on twitter as bloggers, music labels, pr firms, bands, and music fans of the “indie” persuasion posted tweet after tweet about only watching the Grammys to make fun of it.  140 character wit was running high as we all agreed that the self proclaimed highest honor in music has become the MTV music awards twin.  The show is bloated with radio friendly tween pop stars, mainstream rappers, and the few “indie” bands that have long ago shed the confusing title of indie and are now “Juno Indie”.  Some twitter jokes landed, some went ignored, but one thing we all agreed upon was that this show has zero relevance to “us”, the large group that could tell you about the first time we heard “Funeral”.  Then in the cut of an envelope everything changed.  Arcade Fire won album of the year.  The “indie” twitter feed erupted with people shouting we did it, the glass ceiling of indie rock has been broken, this is huge moment for indie rock, game changer, congrats to “indie” label Matador Records, and so on.  What the hell just happened?  One of “our” guys wins and now the Grammys are no longer a joke?  No, sorry friends, the Grammys are still a joke and Arcade Fire winning does nothing for the legitimacy or future progress of "indie rock".

Where to start? 

Oh, the Grammys are bat shit crazy and should be ignored…let’s start there. 

+ There are no rules that say an artist can’t win more than one award…several bands/artists won numerous Grammys last night.  Yet, the album of the year, Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”, lost to the Black Keys in the Alternative Album category.  That is some major MTV music awards “let’s spread out the awards and screw logic” shit.  I understand why sometimes the winner of the best director Oscar doesn’t win best picture, but if your album is the best album of the year…well then it’s the best album in every category your album fits.  Maybe the Grammys didn’t think “The Suburbs” was alternative enough for their taste…well, then why was it nominated in that category?  It’s this ignorance that is only acceptable at bullshit award shows.  If you displayed that level of crazy in the real world, a nice fitting jacket would be waiting for you accompanied by four very soft walls.

+ I’m not making this up:  the last ten nominees for Album of the Year are Beyonce, The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga (twice), Dave Matthews Band, Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Arcade Fire.  Taylor Swift won in 2010.  Yeah, once again, Taylor Swift won in 2010.  What does it mean that one of the “indie” bands beat out complete drivel?  Why is this a great victory?  So far we have one of the LARGEST “indie” bands beating out a field of worthless “musicians” at an award ceremony that is illogical. 

What will happen now?  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for Arcade Fire, out of the albums nominated they had the best one.  This is not a bashing of Arcade Fire, they just showed up and accepted the award. I’m pointing a finger at the dumb hipsters who think this is a “big win”.  What will follow is a huge surge in album sales for Arcade Fire.  I love bands good and bad making money, so good for Arcade Fire.  Money in the music industry is hard to come by and if you can get it than great.  With this award will come a new wave of fans.  I’m a supporter of people expanding their comfort zones in art, so if a teenager puts down their Kesha record and picks up “The Suburbs” than I’m happy.  The band will continue its high level of production, leaning toward indie mainstream like they displayed on “The Suburbs” and the large venues will continue to sell out.  That is the future for Arcade Fire pending a Win Butler solo project or band break up.

What does this mean for indie rock?  Good stuff right?

NOPE.  It means nothing.  All over the Internet article after article discusses what it means to be “indie” or what has become of “indie rock”.  The problem is that it means a lot of different things just like the word hipster can mean pretty much anything now.  It has zero meaning outside your own personal definition.  There are very complicated layers and levels of what indie is and it just doesn’t matter anymore.  Now it’s all about the known and unknown on every level of music.  Have you heard the band/artist?  Do your parents know them?  Can they sell out Madison Square Garden?  Arcade Fire might make music that sounds like something people consider “indie rock” but compared to some guy in Maine posting tracks on Bandcamp for free, Arcade Fire is the Beatles.  The fact is this wasn’t an indie win, rather a band we all saw grow from an unknown to a very well known won a pointless award that none of us took seriously until they agreed with our personal taste in music.

“The Suburbs” went number one in the US and the UK.  It ended 2010 as the 80th best selling record on the year-end Billboard 200.  I hate to shatter any delusions, but Arcade Fire isn’t this little hidden gem anymore.    They sold out arenas, did a youtube-streaming concert to millions, and were covered by almost every major music publication.  It is hard to find a bigger band than Arcade Fire that are still considered “indie”.  The gates are not open for any indie artist to come marching into the Grammys next year with their basement demos.  The way to be nominated for this pointless award is very clear: you have to be a commercial success.  That’s it.  Arcade Fire has been in numerous commercials, SNL, and even had their song used during the most watched television program: the SUPER BOWL. 

In the end.

The biggest point I hope you take away is that the celebration of Arcade Fire breaking down doors occurred a long time ago.  I can’t pin point the moment, but they broke away from being an “indie” band and into the arms of the mainstream way before the idiotic Grammys gave them album of the year.  While I prefer indie music, a band can be great as a struggling unknown or with a huge audience.  It’s all about the music and your personal connection with it, the experiences you build around the album and how the memories pop back up with the touch of the play button. 

But don’t be fooled into false celebration.  The Grammy message is quite clear: we will embrace the most mainstream form of indie rock.  For you bands/artists out there thinking this makes a difference…get cracking on selling out Madison Square Garden and getting a placement during the Super Bowl where a whopping 105.97 million viewers listen to a thirty second clip of your single.  If 105.97 million listeners isn’t indie than I don’t know what indie is.  Well, that’s because I don’t know what indie is because nobody does…it has no meaning and we should all be fine accepting that.  This was not a win for the small guy, indie rock, or your personal taste that you consider to be better than the Katy Perry listener…this is a win for a band that grew steadily behind two very impressive records and now have the honor of walking the thin line between pleasing their old fans and the new ones.  Good luck Arcade Fire, enjoy your meaningless award, and thanks for “Funeral”.  


  1. Thanks for this post. I was utterly astounded that people considered this a "win" for anything more than a band, (although I'd probably include Merge with them, too) and started acting like the Grammys were any less a joke than they were before.

    Honestly, any music award that goes to Taylor Swift instantly loses its legitimacy in my mind and Arcade Fire winning it the next year (over Katy Perry even!) doesn't change that thought.

    The Grammys recognizing independent levels as a force in their own right--even if it's through the biggest band still on an indie label--is nice, but they have a long way to go before they get there. It's still very clear that the foremost force here is money and status.

    The Grammys are still not an award show for music lovers, but simply an award show that has music.


    and yeah, you're right about all of this, obviously. At least I get plenty of amusement on Facebook from people complaining "I've never heard of them until tonight! The award is supposed to go to a band that EVERYBODY KNOWS!"

  3. I agree with your take on this. It isn't really a win for the little guy. Don't get me wrong though, I love that they won and that it wasn't Ke$sha or Gaga, but they're bigger than everyone thinks.

    I did go to school today, mind you I am Canadian and go to an ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS school, and actually got asked "Who is Arcade Fire?" after last night's award.

  4. Only now have I just discovered this article, and as a huge Arcade Fire fan,I think it perfectly explains the trap most of us fell into. I admit I got caught in the hysteria that this would do for indie what Oasis did for Brit-Pop.

    However, I'm glad I have seen the article today, because today of course were the Grammy Nominees 2012, and you were wrong about one thing and one thing only... Bon Iver, with absolutely no commercial success other than a song off an old album making it into an episode of Grey's Anatomy, have gone and got nominated for 4 awards, including album of the year. But I still agree... Bon Iver could win all 4 and it wouldn't change a thing. Indie isn't going to start hitting the Billboard 200 any more than it was before. I don't think anyway... cheers

  5. I know that Arcade Fire won album of the year, but what do you think the response to The Shins' "Port of Morrow" is going to be? From what I have heard from "Simple Song" and "Bait and Switch" I'm loving what I hear...