Let's Talk About the Grammys
Written by Brian Q. Newcomb
February 10, 2012
If you're a music fan, you know that Sunday night (Feb. 12) is the 54th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, coming to a CBS station on a TV near you. This year, rapper/movie star LL Cool J is set to host, and there are performances scheduled by Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt in a tribute to the late, great Etta James, Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Coldplay, The Civil Wars and more. There also are live performance planned from a number of the bigger award nominees, Adele, Foo Fighters, Bruno Mars, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, The Band Perry and many, many more.
There are other musical awards shows, of course, like the Billboard Music Awards where the awards are based on sales and airplay charts, or the American Music Awards where music fans across the nation pick their favorites. All music awards shows are more or less hype-filled popularity contests, but the Grammy is the king of the hype-filled popularity contests, the oldest and biggest and best of them all, and the one that provides winners the greatest bragging rights.
While the musical performances, often in creative collaborations, are the main reason we watch, for those of us who love music and pay attention to the business of making, promoting and selling music (CD's, downloads, concert tickets) the awards are, at the very least, interesting –– okay, and frustrating since our picks often do not win.
While the Grammy is the gold standard of music awards popularity, nobody thinks that means that the winner is empirically and objectively better than all other music, or even those they beat in the same category. Our connection to music, and all art, is always personal and subjective, even if there are objective standards that make us see some songs as better written or performed than others. We tune in at the end of the year to read music critics' and friends' "best of year" lists to get a sense of what folk are listening to, and here's a link to mine
Of course, one incongruous issue with the Grammys is that the "eligibility year" for the awards are the 13 months before the prior September. Thus, all the releases in the last quarter of last year are not eligible for this year's event, which explains why Kanye West, the artist with the most nominations this year (seven) is being honored for songs from his 2010 release, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."
Next year at this time, we'll likely be talking about The Black Keys, Florence & the Machine, Ryan Adams, and The Roots, all really good releases that came out at the end of 2011
West also is nominated for his collaboration with Jay-Z, "Watch the Throne," from last year. Kanye is up for "Rap Album of the Year," but not "Album of the Year," which no doubt some will consider a slight. The three artists with 6 nominations each –– Adele, Foo Fighters and Bruno Mars –– are all nominated in that much higher profile category, along with Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Radiohead, Lil Wayne and Skrillex have all received 5 nominations.
With so many artists nominated in so many categories, one begins to wonder about those deserving artists that have been overlooked, snubbed. In my opinion, the failure to include the latest CDs by Paul Simon ("So Beautiful or So What"), R.E.M. ("Collapse Into Now"), and Over the Rhine ("The Long Surrender") feels nearly criminal. Then there are the artists who have been dumped in a genre where they don't really belong –– Anybody remember Jethro Tull collecting the first Grammy for "Best Metal"? But, it's just an award show, right? Not something we should take too seriously.
The big, important end-of-show categories, besides "Album of the Year," are "Best New Artist," "Record of the Year" and "Song of the Year." These awards can help launch the career of a new artist and/or attract attention to a record that was largely overlooked, like Arcade Fire's "Suburbs," which won the big one last year, and closed out the show with big, brash performances.
"Record of the Year" is about performance, and is shared with the producer and recording engineer. "Song of the Year" goes to the songwriters. These two categories often closely overlap, as they do this year, with four out of five songs competing in both: "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele, "Holocene" by Bon Iver, "Grenade" by Bruno Mars," and "The Cave" by Mumford & Sons. The outliers were "Firework" by Katy Perry, up for "Record of the Year," and ""All of the Lights" by Kanye West, with Rihanna, Fergie (from Black Eyed Peas) and Kid Cudi, up for "Song of the Year."
Two of these artists are also up for "Album of the Year" –– "21" by Adele and "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" by Bruno Mars –– well, three if you count Rihanna, who's nominated for "Loud." Also nominated for "Album of the Year" is "Wasting Light" by the Foo Fighters and "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga.
I'm no groundhog, and it's a week late, but if I were going to prognosticate on the big winners, I'm inclined to expect that the evening goes to Adele, and six more weeks of "Someone Like You." Adele appears poised to take the three big ones, "Album," "Song" and "Record." Certainly, there's no more deserving song that "Rolling in the Deep." That song has been everywhere, practically omnipresent, and still is pleasant to hear, even after a near attempt at massive over-exposure.
Kanye West will likely pick up "Rap Album of the Year," one way or another, but probably with Jay-Z, a huge favorite, and no doubt Foo Fighters and Bruno Mars will get their due in other categories, but I'll be a bit surprised and even disappointed if 2012 is not all about Adele.
This year's nominees for "Best New Artist" come from a variety of musical genres: The Band Perry is country/rock, Bon Iver is an alternative darling, J. Cole and Nicki Minaj (she joined Madonna for the Super Bowl half-time show) are from rap/R&B, and Skrillex does dance and electronica. If I was in charge of filling the envelopes, I'd probably go with The Band Perry, but I'm betting the safe money is on Nicki Minaj.
Strangely, Wilco's "The Whole Love" is nominated in the "Best Rock Album" category, and not "Best Alternative," where I believe they would quite deservedly win. But Foo Fighters will likely take it with that fine album, "Wasting Light," and probably pick up "Best Rock Performance" and/or "Best Rock Song" with "Walk." Then again, Coldplay is in the competition, and for reasons beyond my understanding they are very popular.
As for "Best Alternative Music Album," I'd give it to Radiohead without further consideration, but "Circuital" by My Morning Jacket is a very fine disc. I just don't want Foster the People to win. I don't want to hear that "Pumped Up Kicks" song again for a very long time. And I don't think that's too much to ask.
A couple other discs from my Best of 2011 list have also been nominated. My favorite album of the last year, "Revelator" by Tedeschi Trucks Band, is up for "Best Blues Album," and should take it, but they're up against Gregg Allman, a perennial favorite. Lucinda Williams is nominated for "Blessed" in the "Best Americana" category, but she's in there with Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris and Levon Helm, so it's anybody's ballgame. Four from my end of year list are up for "Best Folk Album" –– The Civil Wars, Steve Earle, Fleet Foxes and Gillian Welch –– so watch them give it to Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder based on little more than name recognition. I didn't know I was such an old folky. Go figure.
They never give out the awards for Gospel and Contemporary Christian music on the air (these genre's have their own awards, with the Christian music industry's equivalent to the Grammy being a Dove Award), and for the most part not much there has captured my attention long enough to hold it. That is, except for "Ghosts Upon the Earth" by Gungor, which is a creative and musically satisfying –– as well as theologically relevant and meaningful –– project. It'd be fun to see take "Best Contemporary Christian Music Album."
So, here we go again, it's the 54th Grammys. Let's tune in and watch all three-and-a-half hours. Funny, they cut the number of awards, but the show is still very long. It's the one night, the one awards show I care about, where you get rappers and rockers, R&B divas and country kickers, classical and jazz, the whole gamut in one fell swoop. Oh, it's messy, and silly at times, strange and wonderful, just like humanity and the pop culture that we come together to create even when we don't know that's what we're doing. There on that stage, loud and proud, is a lot of creativity, folk delivering their heart and soul and doing anything that comes to mind to connect with another human being. It's fun to watch.
In the meantime, you may want to check out that Paul Simon album, "So Beautiful of So What
". It won't win a Grammy this year, but on reflection this artful, spiritually attuned pop record from the talented veteran should be in the mix for "Album of the Year."