Thursday, February 24, 2011

There's Something about Esperanza Spalding

...or, How I Was Trolled HARD by the Grammys Best New Artist

It's been about 10 days since the 53rd annual Grammy Awards were aired on television. By now, most of the dust has settled over the dark horse hijacking of the coveted best new artist category, an award shared by such greats in the music industry as Mariah Carey, Lauryn Hill, and Alicia Keys, to name a few.

Like the rest of the online community, I had no clue who this Esperanza Spalding was. So, of course I was compelled to look her up following the award show.

Since I knew nothing about Esperanza Spalding, I could not decry that she didn't earn the title of best new artist. Actually, of all the nominees, she admittedly was probably the appropriate choice.

I'm shocked that Justin Bieber didn't win, but I'm not appalled. I'm, after all, not a Belieber.

Drake was the artist that I was personally rooting for, as I liked some of his stuff, even though I'm not big on rap.

I know nothing of Mumford & Sons, but that's on me. Apparently they're big in the UK.

Yes, looking at this shortlist of candidates, I have to concede that Esperanza Spalding was more than likely the best choice for the award. Just because the others are more prominent and have a greater commercial appeal doesn't automatically make them more worthy of the award. For once it seems raw talent took precedence over popularity. Kudos to good taste.

And yet I continue to find myself obsessed over this fiasco.


As I had already stated, there were a lot of people shocked over the win, no more so than the Justin Bieber fans. Their surprise quickly turned into belligerent outrage as they decided to launch a verbal attack on Esperanza's Spalding Wikipedia page, essentially calling her a nobody and undeserving of the Grammy she “stole” from their teenybopper idol.

Normally, I'd respond by condemning this negative behaviour and pleading for a return to decency and maturity. That is...

If I wasn't guilty of the exact same offense.

(For clarification's sake, the “old dude” I'm referring to in the tweet is Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), who was speaking as Esperanza arftfully played the cello in the background during the Grammys).

Esperanza Spalding (left) with Neil Portnow (right)

I'm not here to apologize – doing so would be nothing more than a superficial gesture concocted for attention, and Esperanza likely could give a damn what anyone says about her – I'm trying to pinpoint my reason for this callous, egregious lapse in judgment and plain old COMMON SENSE.

Call it a Freudian slip of epic proportions, I don't really know. It's just that, the more that I think about it, the more I wonder what on earth compelled me to write such a slanderous comment against Esperanza Spalding.

The woman is an accomplished singer/songwriter as well as cellist. Her skill and talents are so transcendent that she quickly rose through the ranks to became the youngest professor of her school at age 20. She's performed at the White House and has been praised by countless established entertainers. Certainly these are credentials worthy of respect and awe!

So what right do I or anyone else have to discount this lovely young lady's gifts, her talents, her accomplishments?

Here is a woman, an honest-to-god ARTIST that puts her craft before the promise of fame and wealth. A woman, who probably SHOULD use this sudden catapult into the limelight to promote herself and to milk her 15 seconds, but instead takes her win (as well as the slings and burbs) in stride, refusing to compromise her artistic integrity. What did she do to deserve such HATE?

I really had to look inside myself for why I wrote what I wrote. Less than 140 characters of undistilled vitriol. What in God's name compelled me to lash out like this?!

If I was trying to be clever, then I failed miserably because there's nothing even remotely clever or witty about falsely alleging the woman slept her way to stardom. That's just ignorant.

Isn't this one of those instances, like watching “The Bachelor” or the Miss America beauty pageant, where you're supposed to root for the one black girl in the group of 10 to go all the way, to succeed where others have failed? So why was I so set on bringing her down?

And then it hit me.

Maybe it's because I was never very musically inclined; I took piano lessons briefly, but it never took my interest. I can't really sing, nor can I expertly play any other instruments.

Maybe it's because, here I am at 23 years, frittering away my time and my life online, brooding over my shortcomings, overly concerned with my physical appearance and public image, whereas here is a beautiful, REAL accomplished black woman who is SO deserving a respect and praise and love.

What kind of wretched person have I become to find fault in that? In her?

Esperanza Spalding, you have given me one hell of an inferiority complex.

I can't say I particularly like all of her music – she's a jazz musician, but I'm sure I'd make a lot of snobs vomit in disgust if I were to immediately associate that genre with the likes of Kenny G – but one song in particular really stuck to me.

I hear this song, and I hurt.

Literally. I physically hurt; there is a dull throbbing pain from deep within me that I usually only every feel when I need to acknowledge some terrible notion that lingers in my heart. Like if someone or something is wrong for me, or that I need to accept that, because I'm not an aggressive person like my mother or even an assertive person like my brother, that I will constantly be disappointed, and I will probably never drive myself to reach my full potential.

And it's not just the music, it's the LYRICS.

I'll keep faith
like so many souls who won't be drowned
by evil in the world
that we can guide our choices towards a healthy world

Hearing it now makes it me very sad, because it's not only haunting, it's...true. It's real. It's about fucking SOMETHING.

This song shows Esperanza's range in like, EVERYTHING. Vocally, instrumentally, poetically,'s devastatingly profound.

And yet I commit the ultimate hypocrisy – as much as I plead for a sense of substance to the flashy trainwreck that is the Grammys, when finally thrown a bone, I metaphorically choke on it.

Whether it's the Grammys unexpected decision to honor this special human being, or Esperanza Spalding's ability to conjure up something beyond “Baby, baby” that allows me to feel something that I don't really want to feel probably should....

Somebody's doing something right. I just wish it was me.

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