Though the 53rd annual Grammy Awards contained its fair share of surprises (including Esperanza Spalding's win for Best New Artist and the double-dip victory for Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now"), but by far the biggest shock of the night came at the very end when Arcade Fire's The Suburbs was declared Album of the Year.
The reactions from the pop-music community ranged from confusion (people simply not knowing who the band was) to outrage (with a lot of people on Twitter and in the comments section on this website declaring that Eminem should have won for Recovery). But for those in the indie-rock community (where Arcade Fire first picked up buzz and have been developing a following since their 2004 debut Funeral), it felt like a satisfying victory.
"I was surprised that [The Suburbs] was nominated, but considering the competition, I was not surprised it won," explained Pitchfork Editor in Chief Scott Plagenhoef. For many fans of Arcade Fire, Pitchfork was the outlet that introduced them, as they were an early supporter of Funeral.
Plagenhoef felt Arcade Fire's victory wasn't necessarily a unique moment, but rather a typical story arc for rock bands. "Guitar/rock music made by and for adult listeners hasn't been well-represented via the traditional delivery systems of the past few decades of MTV and radio, so listeners interested in this kind of music are increasingly finding it in bands rooted in the independent world. Along with Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and the Decemberists had #1 albums in the past year or so."
Spin Editor in Chief Doug Brod concurred with Plagenhoef. "It seemed to me like music may be trending toward more indie-minded rock music," he explained, noting that Sunday night's show featured a number of examples of bands from the indie universe who have punched through to the mainstream. "Muse wins Best Rock Album, Mumford & Sons onstage, Florence and the Machine — there's more of a recognition of what's going on outside of what passes for pop music. Even Cee Lo and Lady Gaga — they both make big pop hits, but they're bringing weird outside elements into it."
Brod and Plagenhoef noted that it felt like a positive victory for rock music in general, a sentiment Dave from Brooklyn Vegan agreed with. "Grammys aren't supposed to go to 'indie' bands, but for once the Grammys were rigged in our favor," he said. "More than anything, it seems weird. I was definitely surprised [that Arcade Fire won]. To not be happy about it would be too cynical, but you can't get too excited about it or you're taking the Grammys too seriously. My friend Jeff 'heartonastick' summed it up nicely in an e-mail to me. He said, 'This is sort of a "phew, finally" moment.' "
But will Arcade Fire's win open the floodgates for other acts? Dave thinks so. "You have to give Arcade Fire credit for releasing The Suburbs on indie label Merge Records. And now that Merge won this Grammy, that can only mean good things for the lesser-known bands on the label like Wye Oak and Telekinesis, and that ripple effect will probably continue through the whole indie scene and industry."
Whether or not it means more sales for other bands lurking under the radar, Brod thought Arcade Fire's success last night at least gave listeners the opportunity to be exposed to something they wouldn't normally hear. "It's profound that a band on an indie label closes out the show and wins best album," Brod said. "There's so little decent music on TV during prime time, if it turns viewers onto music they would otherwise not know about, then it's a great thing."
As for Plagenhoef, he said the reaction from readers has been roundly positive ("A bit of a surprise, a bit of bemusement, and a bit of a celebration," he noted) and said the Album of the Year win was a logical conclusion for Arcade Fire. "They're an ambitious arena band, they always were: That was, from the start, one of the endearing and beloved things about them, that they treated every small club show like they were already playing arenas," he explained. "They went for it every night and never shied from trying to make populist music."