Normally I’m a pretty positive person and this article was, like my previous entries, going to be about something new and shiny that’s got me excited which brands should pay attention to. But as a Bachelor of Arts in Media & Cultural Studies combined with Popular Music Studies and a Director of Social Media, the wave of post-GRAMMY news filling my Twitter timeline as I arrived back from Bruges on Tuesday night left me cold. Confused. Angry, even. So what better to rant write about than that?
Before even arriving at Kings Cross I knew all about how Adele had gone for a burger after the show, what Justin Bieber wore (and how he looked like a waiter from American chain Olive Garden), that Taylor Swift stood up for feminism, how Gwen Stefani may or may not have fallen over on-stage and that Dave Grohl drinking out of a red cup represented all of us (no, me neither). But what did I know about the music, the reason all of this was even happening? Absolutely nothing. And this was all my beloved Social Media’s fault.
The online arms race to create and share the best social currency during a high profile event is hardly a new phenomenon. I could almost let it slide for ‘Left Shark’ being more talked about than Katy Perry during her Halftime Show at Super Bowl 2015 as that was an event that took over every timeline despite many not knowing what was going on. We needed something to talk about between the touchdowns and tailbacks that we didn’t understand. But weren’t the GRAMMYs different? Weren’t they all about the music?
After reading about how Rihanna was too ill to perform (so far the closest to music-related news I could find), I left the painstakingly curated safety of my beloved social feeds to actively seek out some news about who had actually won what. But to my shock, the most-Tweeted moments of the night were 1) Ed Sheeran winning Song of the Year, 2) Kendrick Lamar performing ‘The Blacker The Berry’ and ‘Alright,’ 3) Meghan Trainor winning the award for Best New Artist. Not only that, but artists were tweeting about actually winning awards; not sharing memes, gossip or gags.
My exposure to all of that stuff was partly of my own making based on my curating but also as a result of what Eli Pariser calls The Filter Bubble. With the likes of Facebook tailoring the Newsfeed to my own personal tastes based on what I’d been most recently clicking on, I wasn’t being shown other important information. Whereas before I’d go out of my way to consume the latest and most essential music news, more recently I’ve been Liking and Sharing comics and cat videos; inadvertently telling Facebook’s algorithm that this was more important to me. On Twitter, the high-brow music supplement and magazine accounts had been replaced by reaction GIFs and Vine magicians. Instead of a balanced musical information diet, I’d ended up surrounded by information junk food – like Adele at an In-N-Out Burger on GRAMMY night.
Twitter recently announced the option to turn on algorithmic sorting in timelines to compete (no one’s yet said ‘replace’) traditionally chronological sorting, so the potential for stories you’ll probably want to see getting priority over those you probably should see is only going to grow. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing for awards ceremonies; despite watching it live on TV I can’t remember who won a single award at the Brits in 1996, but 20 years later I can still tell you it was the night Jarvis Cocker mooned Michael Jackson. There’s no doubt that if it happened today it would take over my timeline.
But with so many awards, stories, controversies, jokes, celebrations and memes competing for my attention across my social feeds and beyond, despite each headline telling me what the most important part of GRAMMYs 2016 was, to be honest I’m still left wondering.