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The 40th annual American Music Awards have passed us, and Justin Bieber took home the lion’s share of the glory. His acceptance speech mocked those who doubted him, and he proclaimed that he would be here for many years to come. Nicki Minaj also had a good night, and she has released a music video (using the magic four chords, no less) with a similar message to Bieber’s – that she is “relevant.”

That these two artists, so widely considered to produce terrible, uncreative music could win at a music awards show, much less consider themselves relevant, says a lot about what “relevant” actually means. First and foremost, it is fair to say that the AMAs are a popularity contest – both the nominees and the winners appear by name recognition alone. And of course, the AMA’s are voted on by fans, so that makes it even less objective.

For example, “Best Artist” was between Bieber, Rihanna, Maroon 5, Drake, and Katy Perry. Only one or two of these have spent much time topping the charts this year, so from an unbiased Billboard standpoint, they’re not the best; from a musical standpoint, I don’t think many people would even consider them good. When I look at chart history, it seems like Maroon 5 ought to be considered the best, with several #1/#2 hits this year. Furthermore, of the countless contemporary “alternative” bands that exist today, the THREE that the AMAs nominated were Gotye, Linkin Park, and The Black Keys. In short, winning an award on this show doesn’t mean much.

Addressing Bieber specifically, if you look at his chart history, you will find that his label releases an extraordinary amount of singles, and most of them bomb. I have a suspicion that very few paying (or even nonpaying) consumers actually listen to his music. In fact, I believe one of Justin Bieber’s biggest achievements on the year was his youtube parody of “Call Me Maybe,” which rocketed Carly Rae Jepsen into the pop culture spotlight (she actually won an award for this at the AMA’s, too). What strikes me here is that when people look back at the most memorable music moments of 2012, Call Me Maybe and Gangnam Style are going to be at the forefront. These were not just songs, they were a craze – Gangnam Style somehow manages to continue to be one. No two songs got more media attention or fan parodies than these. What has Justin Bieber done this year? Things only tabloids care about. While calling Psy or Carly Rae Jepsen “artist of the year” would probably also be a mistake, at least you could argue they did something to earn it.

I have a different critique for Nicki Minaj and her “relevance.” She considers herself a pioneer for females in hip-hop. I hope, for hip-hop’s sake, that this is not true. Her lyrics are asinine, her persona is ridiculous, and if she is not being taken seriously by the community, it is entirely her fault. To be frank, I don’t even think she is good at the “art” of rapping: she talks fast, but doesn’t flow well; her beats and music don’t mesh. She’s abrasive, so I guess you could liken her to dirty south hip-hop. I don’t consider that a compliment.

She, like David Guetta, is also guilty of abusing the “featuring” line in songs, stacking her own and others’ music with various big names in order to get more attention. I don’t appreciate the tactic, and I find that these collaborations rarely do anything good for the music. If they weren’t doing it for youtube views, they wouldn’t be spending so much money to get 2 Chainz on the billet, when any rapper would do.

Do I think Bieber and Minaj are going anywhere? No. Were it not for the fact that they think they’re making good music, I wouldn’t even feel the need to make this point. The fact is, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj are brands, not artists. Their worth is to help the music industry market Beats, get pageviews, and sell advertising. I guess that’s what you call relevance. The lowest common denominator are those who actually listen to their music, and the rest of us are just along for the ride. You tell me if you think Bieber and Minaj see it that way.

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