This Year's Grammy Nominations: Fucking Insane
My brain hurts
I basically don't care about the Grammy awards. Or, rather, the part of my brain that I use to think rationally doesn't care about the Grammy awards. The Grammys don't really affect record sales for more than a couple of weeks, they don't reflect either popularity or critical acclaim, and they're clogged with so many meaningless awards that sometimes I can't even believe the people nominated give half a shit. (Would it bother Alan Alda, for example, if he lost Best Spoken Word Album to Maya Angelou?) The award ceremony itself is always long-winded and boring enough to be near-unwatchable even though I still watch it every year. The entire enterprise is basically one massive excuse for the record industry to pat itself on the back, and after the financially disastrous year it just had, that's not really something the business should be rushing to do. I know all this very well. And still every year, when the Grammy nominations are announced, I inevitably end up finding myself stunned. That nomination-day feeling isn't outrage, exactly; every music dork in the world has an ideal Grammy-nomination list in mind, and the actual nominations never look anything like those fantasy lists. It's more confusion. Are there really people out there who not only made it through Vince Gill's massive four-disc album These Days but who actually consider it to be the Album of the Year? Is Amy Winehouse really the cultural juggernaut this list makes her look like? How have I never even heard of one of the Best New Artist nominees? For one day every December, it's like I've stumbled into some alternate pop universe where everything is upside down and nothing makes sense. I'm not saying I necessarily know more about pop music than the industry insiders who pick the nominees; after all, I've never heard of Best New Artist nominee Ledisi, and they, evidently, have. But the logic behind so many of these choices just baffles me. This will be an interesting year for the Grammys, if only because it's entirely unclear what might happen.
The big news surrounding this year's list of nominees is Kanye West. He has eight nominations, more than any other artist, and he's up for a lot of the big awards. It's not particularly weird that Kanye is up for Album of the Year, the single most important award; it's not even his first time being nominated for it. But it is weird that he actually has a really good shot at winning the thing this year. Before this morning, I never would've considered Kanye a front-runner for that award. In most cases, the bitch-fit Kanye throws every year when he doesn't win Album of the Year would be enough to put off the notoriously middlebrow voters. Nobody likes it when Kanye acts like he's entitled to this stuff, and Grammy voters hate to do what everyone expects them to do; remember, if you will, that one year when Steely Dan beat out The Marshall Mathers LP. Still, if Kanye doesn't win, who will? It's pretty impressive that Vince Gill decided to release four CDs worth of music at once, but I can't imagine more than a handful of voters actually want to sit through the whole thing. Herbie Hancock's Joni Mitchell tribute could conceivably win thanks to the combined prestige of Hancock and Mitchell, but the whole thing is just too marginal and slight to merit consideration. I barely even noticed that the Foo Fighters released an album this year, and I'm just dumbfounded that it's even nominated; are these guys actually still considered important? It seems like Kanye's main competition is Amy Winehouse, who also got nominated for a ton of awards, but then Winehouse is a notorious goddam mess. On paper, she's exactly the sort of thing Grammy voters like. Just like past winners Lauryn Hill and Norah Jones, she's young and relatively fashionable while still being totally musically conservative, she's crossed over to a whole bunch of different audiences, and she validates the tastes of older voters by being totally slavishly devoted to the music of their youths. It doesn't even particularly matter that she only has two good songs on her album. But if she did win the thing, there'd be a pretty good chance she'd pull a Slash and just slur cusswords all over the place in her acceptance speech. Besides, by Kanye's warped standards, he's been pretty modest this year. He still has lingering goodwill for beating 50 Cent in the great 9/11 sales battle (and for actually selling records), and people feel bad for him because his mom just died. I feel absolutely ridiculous trying to make Grammy predictions because the voters, as a group, are demonstrably working from some sort of bizarre alien logic. But Kanye should really get to working on that acceptance speech. He should also thank Jesus that the Alicia Keys album came out too late to be eligible.
As insane as this list of nominations is, I should probably devote some space to acknowledging the things the Grammy voters did right. Four of the five nominees for Record of the Year range from pretty good to great, and even that Foo Fighters song is pretty inoffensive. It's sort of fun to see Feist's name so many times since it shows she's officially made the leap from Indie Norah Jones to Actual Norah Jones Competitor. I'm going to have a tough time deciding whether to root for Taylor Swift or Paramore for Best New Artist; they all seem like good kids, and they all have good songs. Daughtry got locked out of all the big categories. Timbaland's up for Producer of the Year. Justice and LCD Soundsystem are both up for Best Electronic/Dance Album, which proves that at least a few Grammy voters have their fingers somewhere near the pulse, even if those groups do have to compete with Tietso and something called Shiny Toy Guns. Slayer will probably win their second straight Best Metal Performance statuette. "I Get Money" got some love, as did "Int'l Players Anthem" (and it would be really great to see UGK get a Grammy now). Most of the big rap nominees are not outright embarrassments, which is nice. And I'm actually sort of excited to see this year's show, mostly because I really don't know who's going to win what. This is the first year in a while I can really say that.