It’s not every day you get the opportunity to see Justin Vernon of Bon Iver tucked into a theater seat behind Rihanna and Paul McCartney. But such is the nature of the Grammys, whose increasingly schizophrenic and chaotic approach to celebrating the fragmented music industry kept returning back to lesser-known artists with Midwestern ties during last night’s ceremony.
Vernon was a big winner at last night’s awards, taking home the coveted Best New Artist award and beating out more mainstream artists like Nicki Minaj and J. Cole.
“It’s hard to accept, because when I started to make songs, I did it for the inherent reward of making songs. So I’m a little bit uncomfortable up here,” Vernon said, his acceptance speech brimming with earnestness while his girlfriend Kathleen Edwards beamed at him from her seat. “But with that discomfort I do have a sense of gratitude, to all the nominees, and the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here, all the bands I toured with, all the bands that inspired me and all the artists.”
“I also want to say — sorry,” he said, pausing to apologize for his nervousness. “I also want to say thank you to all the voters, of course. Sweet. Sweet hook-up.”
The Best New Artist win was a surprising one, especially given the mainstream viewership’s expectations that awards will go to familiar faces and Top 40 celebrities, and follows in the footsteps of last year’s similarly surprising Grammy nods to Esperanza Spalding (who edged out Justin Bieber in the Best New Artist category) and Arcade Fire (who won Album of the Year). While it’s considered a big win for fans of independent music, it also drives home just how “famous” a musician has to be these days to register as a blip on the radar of the average American viewer. Naturally, the Who is Bon Iver? Tumblr lit up like a switchboard in the wake of the awards show, with a number of viewers puzzling over this new band “Bonny Bear.”
In addition to the Best New Artist win, Bon Iver took home an award for Best Alternative Music Album for their 2011 sophomore release, Bon Iver, Bon Iver. They were nominated for a total of four awards, but lost out to Adele’s massive hit “Rolling in the Deep” in both the Best Song and Best Record of the Year categories.
Speaking of Adele, Twin Cities music fans might have recognized a familiar face behind the six-time Grammy award winner last night. When she took the stage to accept her biggest award, Album of the Year for her record 21, she was accompanied by a line-up of songwriters and producers who helped assemble the record including Minnesota’s own Dan Wilson. Wilson, who started out his career in the Minneapolis band Trip Shakespeare and later found commercial success with Semisonic, has transitioned into a co-songwriter role recently and has helped pen hits for the Dixie Chicks (whose song “Not Ready to Make Nice” earned him a Song of the Year trophy in 2007), Mike Doughty, Dierks Bentley, and another of this year’s Best New Artist nominees, the Band Perry. For more on Wilson’s success as a songwriter, Jon Bream penned an excellent profile in the Star Tribune.
Adele also gave a personal shout-out to Wilson while accepting the award for Best Pop Vocal Performance for her song “Someone Like You,” which she said she wrote with the help of Wilson, noting that “My life changed when I wrote this song.”
Additional Minnesotan artists who were nominated this year included Brian Setzer, whose Setzer Goes Multi-Instrumental lost to Booker T. Jones’ The Road From Memphis in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category, and Stokley Williams of Mint Condition, whose contributions to Kelly Price’s single “Not My Daddy” earned nods in the Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song categories.