It's been another long span of time since my last blog though Twitter has a way of bringing out ignorance posts that need proper addressing. Anyone quite familiar with the franchise knows that Alvin and the Chipmunks have won a number of Grammys and frankly deserve them based on performance. This truth is not to say whether other artists do or do not have merit for the same honor, just that the point is irrelevant.
Background of Tweets
A tweet began circulating comparing corruption of the Grammy Awards to the franchise. Additional replies to this tweet explained the awards as being the result of racism and xenophobia, hence implying the same from the characters. The last point worth mentioning is the number of comparisons between The Chipmunks and artists of today.
This blog is not to debate about whether or not the Grammys are fraudulent today; the politics is a side issue best discussed elsewhere, but there are specific points that should be corrected given individuals failed to perform their own research before posting slander.
Let's break these points down:
- Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., the creator of the characters, was Armenian. Ultimately this should not matter, but claiming artists do not receive awards because of xenophobia, in this case, is clear ignorance.
- The Chipmunks may be a fictional group, but the artists are real. Contrary to what a number of people think, a Chipmunks track is not created by simple taking another artist's song and speeding it up. Real, talented artists are required to properly record tracks. Each song is given new vocals, recorded at a slower speed that is then sped up. Technology of today has simplified the process, but the artists and songs are very much real. Some clarifications between different types of recording, proper and improper, are mentioned in the Common Misconceptions blog.
- Time and technology cannot be overlooked. Every nomination and award was made between 1958-1966; these awards are far from new and likely are not for the character designs/content/voice actors you may have been thinking. Music production 60+ years ago was quite different to what it is now. While the method of slowing down tape to record before playing it back at regular speed was not completely new, the process of implementation made it a success. Additionally, Ross's use of two track recording even interested The Beatles, who used four track recording. Considering three of the franchise's Grammys were for Best Engineered Recording, it's unfair to equally be comparing artists recording now, knowing what can now be done digitally is almost limitless, versus those recording then with different equipment.
- The new characters completed the early tracks. Keep in mind that the debut of the Alvin and the Chipmunks characters was the track "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," which was awarded three Grammys and voiced entirely by Badgdasarian, Sr. Part of the success of these early tracks was undoubtedly the banter of the characters contained within the tracks, especially between Alvin and Dave. As Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. points out in his interview with NPR, Alvin's audacity was very admirable and contributed to his success.
- The Chipmunks do have original content. Historically the boys are well known for cover songs, though they have many original songs as well. Four of the six Grammys they received were entirely for original content, while another was for work that still contained original content. Today, the distribution within the franchise between cover and original songs is nearly half and half.
Here are the Grammys awarded between 1958 (the very first Grammy ceremony) and 1965:
- "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" for Best Recording for Children
- "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" for Best Comedy Performance
- "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" for Best Engineered Record, Non-Classical
- "Alvin's Harmonica" for Best Engineering Record, Non-Classical
- Let's All Sing with The Chipmunks for Best Album for Children
- The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits for Best Engineered Recording - Special or Novel Effects
Finally, it should be mentioned the most notable nomination that did not result in an award was "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" for Record of the Year. Why is this? The group's debut track quickly topped the Hot 100, remaining there for four weeks, and rapidly sold 2.5 million records in three weeks, the fastest selling record in 1958. The record went on to sell millions more copies and remained the sole #1 Christmas song on the Hot 100 for 61 years, until Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" finally reached #1 as well.
While this blog just touches the surface on their history, these musical brothers were clearly deserving of the honors they received considering the time, the recording technique, and their audience. There's no doubt they went on to shape our culture and it's disingenuous to dismiss the very real work by their creators with the suggestion The Chipmunks were only honored because of alleged corruption.