Leading up to the 2012 Grammy Awards, Bon Iver lead singer, Justin Vernon, was interviewed by plenty of media outlets. All of them were trying to figure out this mysterious goofy guy from Wisconsin with the voice of some kind of folk angel. The success of his band’s self-titled second album has thrust Justin Vernon into the spotlight, a place he never chased, and obviously feels a uncomfortable standing in.
Vernon’s interviews all had one reoccurring, yet conflicted theme — fuck the Grammys. I say conflicted because every time he took a stand against the watered-down awards show, he’d immediately backtrack to make his comments seem less harsh. It appeared as though he is simply too nice of a guy to speak his mind without hesitation.
The harshest words Vernon had for the Grammys is when he feuded with the show over giving a live performance. He was asked to do a collaboration and felt he wasn’t being given the opportunity to play his music, so he declined the invite to perform, but still attended the event. He explained his stance on the issue during an interview with Billboard at the beginning of the month.
“We wanted to play our music, but were told that we couldn’t play. We had to do a collaboration with someone else, and we just felt like it was such a large stage — we’re getting nominated for this record that we made. Me and Brian [Joseph] and a bunch of our fucking friends and we were given accolades for it, and all of a sudden we were being asked to play music that had nothing to do with that. We kind of said ‘fuck you’ a little bit, and they sort of acted like they wanted us to play, but I don’t think they wanted us to play.”
But even after this little “fuck you,” he still decided to participate in commercial promos to help promote the event, and sat in the stands with a genuine smile on his face, clapping for every winner and nominee. On multiple occasions Vernon has said that he doesn’t believe in awards shows, but appreciates the recognition.
Before the band was nominated, Vernon was profiled by the New York Times Magazine, and during an interview not used in the profile, Jon Caramanica asked Vernon about his thoughts on the Grammy Awards.
“I would get up there and be like, ‘This is for my parents, because they supported me,’ ” because I know they would think it would be stupid of me not to go up there. But I kinda felt like going up there and being like: “Everyone should go home, this is ridiculous. You should not be doing this. We should not be gathering in a big room and looking at each other and pretending that this is important.” That’s what I would say.
So, last night, when Bon Iver won the Grammy for Best New Artist, some people expected Vernon’s speech to be seeped in awards show cynicism, but it wasn’t. He politely, and awkwardly expressed how hard it was to accept the award, due to the politics that surround the Grammys and the plethora of deserving artists who will never be nominated. However he couldn’t help but be excited for winning. Vernon still thanked the voters for the “sweet hook up.”
There is nothing wrong with Vernon’s wishy-washy attempt to make a stand on music’s biggest stage. His inability to give the show the middle finger was almost endearing. It’s human to feel grateful and excited after being acknowledged during the most prestigious awards show in the music industry — even if you don’t believe in what it represents. There is no hiding the fact that the Grammy awards rarely recognize the best music and musicians of the year. The show is usually one long circle jerk for Top-40 pop music. However, you try and not blush while walking across that stage for the first time to a standing ovation.