Not many people seemed more shocked by Bon Iver’s upset win for the Best New Artist Grammy Award than Bon Iver themselves, and in particular singer Justin Vernon, who spent an awkward few minutes on stage painfully and very publicly swallowing the words he spoke earlier this year criticizing the Grammys. “It’s really hard to accept this award,” Vernon told the audience at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. “There’s so much talent out here on the stage and there is a lot of talent that’s not here tonight.” True — but that’s not why it’s hard to accept. Wonder how all that crow tasted.
Though Vernon had earned acclaim for his collaborations with Kanye West, and Bon Iver itself had seen their self-titled album earn the #2 spot on the Billboard album chart, Sunday’s win was hardly a victory lap. Nor did it feel like a reconciliation with Grammy producers.
The band had separately refused to perform on the Grammy telecast, because, as Vernon told Billboard earlier:
“We wanted to play our music, but were told that we couldn’t play. We had to do a collaboration with someone else… And we just felt like it was such a large stage, we’re getting nominated for this record that we made. Me and Brian [Joseph] and a bunch of our fucking friends and we were given accolades for it, and all of a sudden we were being asked to play music that had nothing to do with that. We kind of said ‘fuck you’ a little bit and they sort of acted like they wanted us to play, but I don’t think they wanted us to play.”
Little wonder, then, that when Grammy voters awarded them the trophy over favorite Nicki Minaj, Vernon appeared a bit embarrassed and visibly unsure how to balance his apparently genuine disdain for the awards process (and the show’s pageantry) with the fact that said process just resulted in him receiving one of the industry’s highest honors.
“It’s also 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 told the crowd. “With that discomfort, I do have a sense of gratitude. I want to say thank you to all the nominees and all the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here.”