Oddsmaking: Will Mumford & Sons Upset "Rolling In The Deep" In The Grammys' Record Of The Year Race?
Every year, when I get involved in Grammy debates with my cooler friends, I tell them the problem with the awards isn't that they reward mass-appeal schlock. If the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is doing its job right, it should be rewarding popular, undeniable, and somewhat unhip records. The problem is that NARAS can't even reward the popular stuff right.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the Record of the Year category, which, next to the coveted, show-closing Album of the Year prize, should be the marquee award of the night. If NARAS were on its game, it would nominate five high-gloss, career-defining singles that crushed at Top 40, R&B/hip-hop, country or rock radio and then give the big prize to a title that makes everyone say, Yeah, okay, love it or hate it, that record dominated.
Instead, Record of the Year has largely become a head-scratching nonevent, in which NARAS, like a middlebrow missile, homes in on a song that's neither hip enough to be a critics' favorite nor undeniable enough to appeal to the casual TV viewership. Just in the last decade, NARAS has given you such Records of the Year as the Dixie Chicks' most atonal and bile-filled single; two little-heard "event" duets by Ray Charles with Norah Jones, and Robert Plant and Allison Krauss; and a U2 song some like to call a "9/11 anthem," ignoring the fact that anthems are usually widely known and this song came out a year before the tragedy and missed the Hot 100, not even charting after 9/11. Even some of the better RotY picks have been wrongheadedI happen to like Coldplay's "Clocks," winner in 2004, but over OutKast's "Hey Ya!" and Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love"? Way to miss the plot, NARAS. (I wish YouTube had a clip from the '04 show of presenter and friend-of-OutKast Mary J. Blige, visibly deflating when she opened the envelope and read "Clocks," like the word was "broccoli.")
All that said, in the last couple of years the Grammy has gone to songs that, whatever you think of them, were undeniably popular and radio-blanketing: Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody" in 2010, and Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" in 2011. And this year, NARAS has a chance to do something they haven't done in nearly two decades and give RotY to the actual No. 1 song of the year; the last such song to clean up both in Billboard and at the Grammys was Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" in 1994. Will this normally-impossible, should-be-a-no-brainer feat be achieved by that smash Adele single? Let's start with it.
As part of my forecasting, I tried to put myself in the mindset of two generations of voters, using two particular guys as proxies: Quincy Jones, the most-rewarded nonclassical artist in Grammy history (and a guy who was a little too visibly happy when his fogey buddy Herbie Hancock won Album of the Year in an upset in 2008); and Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots, a NARAS member who's been fairly vocal about the need for the voting body to get younger and reward records at the center of pop culture.