Why Arcade Fire’s Grammy Win Shouldn’t Surprise Anyone

When Arcade Fire headlined two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden last summer, it served as a reminder that the band who came up playing in churches and basements in Montreal had finally made it. And when I say made it, I don’t mean they were finally able to support themselves by playing and selling music. That happened two albums ago. I mean they solidified their status as one of the biggest rock acts on the planet. (And if that didn’t do it, then their headlining spot a Lollapalooza a few days later sure did.) Then last night, Arcade Fire, one of the biggest rock bands on Earth, snagged the biggest award the music industry has to offer, and the reaction, for the most part, was shock.

It’s a surprising reaction, then, since the winning album, The Suburbs, wasn’t exactly an underdog. Not only was it universally praised by critics, landing in the top three of at least ten major year-end best-of lists, but the thing debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and sold 156,000 copies in its first week. When juxtaposed next to its fellow nominees, it’s true that The Suburbs starts looking more like the indie album people consider it to be, but the Grammys have a notorious history of ignoring sales when it comes to their voting process. Year after year, with a few exceptions, they prove that this award is not a popularity contest. This is the same body that in 2007 awarded the Best Album to Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters. Maybe that’s why people were so taken aback. For once, the Grammy voters seemed, for lack of a better term, with it.

But this year’s Best Album class was full of performers who skewed younger, anyway. And it shouldn’t matter that Eminem’s Recovery had ten nominations. When was the last time a straight hip-hop record won Album of the Year? If you count The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the answer is 1999, and if you don’t, the answer is never. Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream might have been one of the more ubiquitous albums of 2010, but Album of the Year it is not. As for Lady Gaga, awarding an album that came out in November of 2009 would have just been strange, leaving Lady Antebellum Need You Now as The Suburbs‘ only true competitor. And guess what: It won. Big deal?

But then again, when you put Arcade Fire and their victory in the context of this brand new Tumblr page, called Who is Arcade Fire, you’re reminded that maybe being one of the biggest bands in your world, doesn’t mean being one of the biggest bands in the world.

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