February 29, 2016

OP-ED: Oscars's music controversy & the dumbing of America

After last night's Oscar broadcast, one of the label's co-founders Alec Hanley Bemis wrote a thing about the f**ked-upness of the Oscars' relationship to music in 2016 — and posted it to Brassland's F'book page. Alec has some strong opinions on the matter, having met Elliott Smith in 2000, soon after Smith's own Oscar appearance changed the singer-songwriter's life—for better & worse. And it feels relevant to post here seeing as two of our artists & two mentors/friends of the label were caught up in the competitive scrum of the Academy Awards this year. (To reel 'em off, label co-founder Bryce Dessner co-composed the soundtrack to The Revenant; The Gloaming's singer Iarla Ó Lionáird had a prominent cameo in best picture nominee Brooklyn; our friend & mentor David Lang composed a best song nominee for Youth; and Anhoni—a sometime collaborator of Bryce—composed another best song nominee for the film Racing Extinction. #humblebrag? Yes! And yes, our mind boggles a bit at all the Oscars adjacency.)

If Alec's thoughts are tl; dr, we urge you to at least give these two other pieces of 'content' by Anhoni & Lang on the same topic a moment of your time.


• FROM DAVID LANG via VARIETY (Click here for footnote on source)

Diversity is certainly a thorny topic these days. But a related & equally important issue to point out is the celebrity-focused, dumbing down of American culture — since American culture is so influential both here and abroad. I'd like to point out that the controversies around the music category at this year's Oscars are essential examples of the danger of pandering to a public whom the media powers-that-be insist are less sophisticated than we actually are.

Essentially what I'd like to suggest is that dumbness & celebrity-culture is contagious. And that proudly pandering to an imagined popularity contest is, at this moment, a real & present cultural crisis. The forces which led the Oscars to cut Anhoni & David Lang's performances in favor of The Weeknd, Lady Gaga & David Grohl are the same forces currently fueling America's political shitshow in our presidential elections; and the same forces that lead to bigotry, small mindedness, racism and oppression of those whose sexual identity or expression of gender diverges from the so-called 'norm'. This year the pandering just happened to hit closer to home — both Anhoni & David are part of Brassland's extended family tree.

What's happened to our culture in the last decade that's created our current celebrity crisis? I remember well the 'unlikely' Oscar performances by Elliot Smith in 1998 and the equally 'unlikely' win by Three 6 Mafia in 2006. Why, in 2016, couldn't the Oscars offer 3 to 5 minutes of screen time for Anhoni, a singer of such incredible gifts, or Lang, a composer who has mentored & inspired an entire generation of fellow composers?

I don't really have more to offer on this topic beyond 'dumb is bad & celebrity is worse.' Mostly I want to suggest you take a moment to consider both Anhoni & David Lang's experiences at this year's awards. I understand the 'culture of complaint' carries with it complications just as the 'culture of celebrity' does. But both Anhoni & David are unusually articulate advocates for their positions & practitioners of their art. They each deserve a moment of your time."

End of the day, I've loved the music of Grohl & Gaga & Abęl Tesfaye as much as I've loved the more obscure portions of our shared musical universe. But a diversity of voices & sounds is what our culture needs to be all about, always & forever, both in & out of the television spotlight.


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#Note that the video of Lang's red carpet interview was created & posted to Facebook by Variety. We're using our own YouTube video embed here because we can't get Facebook's video embed code to work. We consider the use of this video 'fair use' but invite Variety or Facebook to help us use the original source video at their request, if they care!

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