So Beautiful? So What: Why The Grammys Shoved Paul Simon Aside And Embraced Skrillex

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A good while back, I was envisioning a Grammy-night dogfight between what, at that point, were my two favorite albums of 2011: Lady Gaga's Born This Way and Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What. (Both ended up on my Pazz & Jop ballot.)I mentioned this to Maura and she said, "No. Adele." Up went my vision in smoke. Still, I figured the Englishwoman would at least be looking back in passing at the Egg Lady and Mr. Grammy together. Of course they'd both be nominated, I figured. Gaga is Gaga, and Simon's album wasn't simply his strongest work since Graceland—after many, many plays (none for work, incidentally—I didn't write about it), I think So Beautiful might be his best album, period.

Obviously, my predictions didn't mean anything. Gaga has nothing to worry about, but not only wasn't Simon nominated for Album of the Year, he wasn't nominated for anything at all. This for a guy who managed a 2001 Album nod for the outright dud You're the One—never mind that he's one of only three people to win three times for AOTY: in 1971 for Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, in 1976 for Still Crazy After All These Years, and in 1987 for Graceland. Simon may stew over "coming in second" to Bob Dylan all these years, but this year was his chance to at least try to pull ahead of fellow three-Album winners Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder (whom Simon thanked in 1976 for not "mak[ing] an album this year") in the Grammy sweeps.

There are a number of potential reasons for this. The obvious one is that, hey, maybe the voters didn't like his album very much. This seems extremely unlikely, and not just because it was my own No. 1—or that it finished a strong 14th in Pazz & Jop. So Beautiful is a classically styled album (ten songs, including a short acoustic guitar instrumental) that dwells humorously and with real depth of feeling on aging, looking back, summing up—themes not only of Simon's earlier Grammy-nodded work but of such AOTY winners as Sinatra's September of My Years, John Lennon & Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy, Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time, and Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind. (I was tempted to include Natalie Cole, but only for laughs.)

Then again, that might be the issue. The Grammys have had a youth problem since their inception—at first on purpose, since the awards were founded by anti-rock bizzers (led by Sinatra) who wanted to honor "real" music. Once it became obvious that rock and roll was (a) not going away and (b) turning most of that "real" music into pulp, sales-wise, the awards swerved toward rock's most parent-friendly iterations. Paul Simon was a top beneficiary of this shift.

But Grammys are Grammys, and if anything the awards had swung, hard, towards old-for-old's sake by the time the 2000s came around. Counting T-Bone Burnett as the auteur behind the O Brother soundtrack (AOTY in 2002), between 2000 and 2009, the Album winners' average age at the time of their victory was 46.7; take away Norah Jones (23 in 2003), OutKast (Andre 3000 and Big Boi were both 28 in 2004), and the Dixie Chicks (average age: 35 in 2007), and the number rises to 54.2. (And the Norah Jones who swept in '03 counts as a fake old person anyway.) Pop music is youth-driven; these choices were not, as they say, good for ratings.


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7 comments
MrStillwater
MrStillwater

Sorry, it's hard to take anyone seriously who says SBoSW is a better album than Rhythm of the Saints, let alone Graceland. Personally I'd put it on a par with Surprise, and it's a shame that neither got nominated but I can understand why they didn't.

JPSartre
JPSartre

I respectfully disagree with the author of this article; in my opinion, So Beautiful... doesn't have anything on Rhythm of the Saints.

kikojones
kikojones

Ah, the Grammys continue to wave the flag of irrelevance, while raking in the bucks. How do they do it? They have never really gotten it right, even when the choices were painfully obvious for anyone paying attention. And now, more than ever, the telecast's ratings are of much more importance to them than awarding the right artist or work. It was lame before; now the Grammys are simply pathetic.

nealinvt
nealinvt

Sorry, I have tried repeatedly to like this album, to no avail. The melodies are meh, his voice is weak, and the production not as sterling as the excellent "Surprise".  I just can't join the critics falling all over themselves on this one.  

Matt Carlson
Matt Carlson

Not to mention that in a rare instance, Paul Simon is actually more "rock" than Radiohead's nominated album. 

Al Shipley
Al Shipley

Ahh, I'd been trying to figure out who could've possibly filled that geezer-shaped hole in this year's AOTY nominations. Did anyone else anywhere near Simon's stature/age range even release an album this year?

maura
maura

Tom Waits is probably too niche? 

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