Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Neil Young’s Pono and the UK’s Grammys

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 1:00 AM

click to enlarge Foo Fighters - RALPH PH / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Ralph PH / Wikimedia Commons
  • Foo Fighters
While U.K. music fans may not appreciate constant referrals to their beloved Brit Awards as “The British Grammys,” last week’s announcement of the latest winners went a long way toward confirming that nickname.

Three of the eight Brit Award honorees — Kendrick Lamar, The Foo Fighters, and Lorde — are non-U.K. acts who were also 2018 Grammy nominees, while Damon Albarn’s animated Gorillaz (who actually are British) have nearly a dozen Grammy nominations under their own belt.

It’s also a safe bet that three of the remaining 2018 winners — Harry Styles, Rag’n’Bone Man and Dua Lipa — will all be fêted at next year’s Grammy celebration.

In fact, the only Brit award winner who will likely never find favor among Grammy voters is Stormzy, whose mix of grime, jungle and garage music doesn’t play well in America.

Compare that to the preceding decade, where half of the Brit Awards’ “Single of the Year” winners — Little Mix, Rudimental, Tinie Tempah, JLS, and Girls Aloud — linger in obscurity here in the States.

All of which raises the possibility that the U.K. and U.S. music scenes have begun to coalesce in a way that hasn’t been seen since the ‘60s, when the Beatles, Stones and several other British Invasion artists ruled the American airwaves. Whether or not that would be a good thing remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, poor Neil Young’s much-hyped Pono has been having trouble on both sides of the Atlantic.

While vinyl LPs, cassette tapes and MP3s have played transformative roles in the history of the recording medium, the high-res digital music service he’s been championing for the past four years has now reached the point where it’s very unlikely to do that.

In case you were wondering, Pono is the Hawaiian word for righteousness — as opposed to self-righteousness — although there’s clearly some of that involved here, as well.

Young is blaming Pono’s failure in the marketplace on the music industry’s forces of evil.

“The record labels killed it,” he told the Chicago Tribune in a Valentine’s Day interview that was anything but a love letter. “They killed it by insisting on charging two to three times as much for the high-res files as for MP3s. Why would anybody pay three times as much?”

That’s a fair question, especially at a time when music consumers have gotten used to paying nothing at all.

This is not the first time Young has butted heads with the industry over technology. It was 35 years ago that his largely vocoder-drenched Trans album prompted a $3.3 million lawsuit from Geffen Records, who really would have preferred to sell something that actually sounded like Neil Young.

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