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.")More »