“I’m going to say something typically me on behalf of all of us… I don’t know what this means—I don’t think it means anything. That’s just how I feel. There’s too many bands and we’ve heard it all before.” –Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder’s 1996 Grammy acceptance speech for “Spin the Black Circle”
Honestly, I’m not sure what it means either. In the past 37 years I’ve watched The Grammys at least 20 times and struggle to recall more than a few specific acts or moments. Radiohead’s “15 Step” with the USC Trojan Marching Band in 2009 is one that jumps to mind. Eminem and Elton John. Loved the Mumford and Sons/Avett Brothers/Bob Dylan “Maggie’s Farm” collaboration last year. Almost forgot about Slash and Duff’s drunken f-bombs in 1991 (except that it was 1990, and it was the American Music Awards, not the Grammys.)
I’m super-close to confirming that The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is a front for a real-world Legion of Doom, and that they are responsible for many of the crazy, meaningless, super-villainesque events that happen all over the world (I’m looking at you, giant blob off of Barrow, Alaska.) Just look at this heinous list of misdoing: A Taste of Honey beating Elvis Costello for Best New Artist in 1978, The New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral” beating out both “Good Vibrations” AND “Eleanor Rigby” for 1967’s Best Contemporary Song, Metallica losing to Jethro Tull in 1988. (I took this one very personally.)
Even a cursory glance at a list of Best New Artist winners looks more like a ‘where are they now’ bit than a serious retrospective of American music:
Tracy Chapman, 1989- The ultimate ‘Rick-roll’ (She beat out Rick Astley, Toni Childs, Take 6, Vanessa Williams and I’m trying really hard to make this joke work.)
Milli Vanilli, 1990- Who said that?
Marc Cohn, 1992- I think he delivered my pizza last night.
Paula Cole, 1998- Where HAVE all the cowboys gone?
Esperanza Spalding, 2011- She beat out ‘The Biebs’? Really?
Maybe it’s not fair to have so much fun at the Academy’s expense. Because musical taste is so subjective it’s easy to feel like the Academy’s vote is a consensus of the nation’s musical pulse. And sometimes, it is. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1968. Bridge over Troubled Water in 1971. Songs in the Key of Life in 1977. Double Fantasy in 1982. Thriller in 1984. No Jacket Required in 1986. The Joshua Tree in 1988. O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack in 2002. The Suburbs in 2011.
It’s an odd and selective list, but I believe it does truly reflect changing tastes and trends (In 1974 Stevie Wonder became the first African-American artist to win. 1974? Really?) and shows that when the Academy gets it right, they get it right. Who would argue with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band over Ode to Billy Joe? When I think of middle school I think of The Joshua Tree the same way I think about Thriller when I think about elementary school. The O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack win must’ve stunned most everybody whose music comes from New York or L.A. instead of Nashville. Talk about total validation for the ‘fly-over’ states. Was the Academy right? (For perspective, it won over India.Arie’s Acoustic Soul, Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft, Outkast’s Stankonia and U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind.)
So, how will this year’s nominees stack up? Here were my picks, followed by the results:
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: I think this is Adele’s year. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hearing “Rolling in the Deep.” As much as I like Wasting Light, it’s just not the Foo’s year. It’s a great album, but without an “Everlong” or even a “Times Like These” I just don’t see it happening. Especially with the Foos being nominated for BEST ROCK ALBUM. Born This Way is a great album, and may pull an upset with a little help from the late, great Clarence Clemmons. But I doubt it.
RECORD OF THE YEAR: “Rolling in the Deep.” It’s old-school, and it’s the one song hipsters and soccer moms know. And it’s badass. I’m a Mumford guy myself, but I think Adele is a shotgun next to Mumford’s cap gun. And Bon Iver? If I had to give the song a grade I’d give it a Zzzzz. I’d even vote for “Firework” over “Holocene.”
BEST ROCK ALBUM: Wasting Light. This will be the consolation prize for losing ALBUM OF THE YEAR. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, still sizzling from their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nod could just as easily win it though. The Chilis have been around long enough to start generating a certain kind of nostalgia amongst voters even though Dave Grohl’s just as much a survivor as Flea and the guys. Having said all that, I hope Wilco gets it. The Whole Love is the album I can spin over and over again. I hear something new every time I listen to it.
BEST RAP ALBUM: Don’t really have a dog in this race, but I’m saying Watch the Throne because it’s a twofer and the tour blew so many people away. Don’t be surprised if Lil Wayne pulls off a win with The Carter IV even if he has run out of ideas for album titles.
BEST POP SOLO PERFORMANCE: This is one of those categories where the Academy may pass on Adele to give somebody else a shot. Most likely Lady Gaga. But, splitting the vote may benefit Adele because I’ve seen people burst into tears listening to “Somebody Like You.” (Inversely, I’ve never seen anybody burst into flame upon hearing either “Firework” or “Grenade.”)
BEST RAP SONG: Voting history shows that the Academy isn’t a big fan of collaborations. Wiz was big, but not that big, so the Grammy goes to Kanye. I’ll be watching, always still hoping somebody has the balls to ruin Kanye’s speech.
BEST ROCK SONG: This is another ‘process of elimination’ categories. Foos win BEST ROCK ALBUM so they’re out. Mumford and Sons loses RECORD OF THE YEAR to Adele, so I’m going with “The Cave.” Besides, Mumford and Sons should be able to pull in all of the country/alt-country votes. Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” is a little too avant-garde for some folks. That’s my impression anyway.
BEST NEW ARTIST: Bon Iver isn’t really a ‘new artist.’ Skrillex is the ‘…it’s an honor just to be nominated’ guy this year. Is J. Cole related to Paula Cole? This leaves us with Nicki Minaj and The Band Perry. Minaj is hotter, but The Band Perry probably has the mass appeal. Vegas gives The Band Perry 7-5 odds. I say, see BEST NEW ARTIST 1992.
Just a few more points: Would love to see The Black Keys grab BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE, Deadmau5 has to nab BEST DANCE RECORDING, Mastodon winning BEST HARD ROCK/METAL PERFORMANCE would be awe-some(!) if only to see how the audience reacts, Jeff Tweedy deserves to win something, can’t wait to see The Civil Wars perform (even if it’s the song from THE HUNGER GAMES soundtrack,) and The Beach Boys, Foster the People and Maroon 5 are playing together which should either be awesome or batpoop crazy. (Way, to commit, I know.)
Award shows do one thing, and they do it well. Just like ‘Best Of’ lists, award shows get people talking about the music they love and introduce many people to artists they would’ve otherwise shied away from. Who gets the biggest iTunes bump this week? Skrillex? The Civil Wars? Either way, a bunch of people are going to be ready to fight about who should’ve won and who didn’t come Monday morning.
I say, why wait until you get to work to squabble when you can squabble right here. I’ll start–I said it before and I’ll say it again, Wilco was the band that broke the most new ground while remaining true to their rock roots, and they got robbed.
Looking forward to your comments below.