Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hits and Misses: The Best and Worst of the GRAMMY 2012 Nominees

Part of me, frankly, doesn't give a damn.

Because, frankly, the GRAMMYs become less significant with each passing year (for reasons detailed here).

But another part of me (the part that generally avoids using Gone with the Wind references and dreams of Rihanna one day being a GRAMMY queen) can't help but weigh in on the nominations that were announced on November 30. I've always thought that the GRAMMY nominations were more interesting for the snubs than for those recognized, and this year was no different.

The absence that surprised me the most wasn't that of the year's top nominee Kanye West (7 nods) in the Album of the Year category for the rapturously reviewed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I suspect that by releasing Watch the Throne, his collaboration with Jay-Z, in 2011, he was destined to split votes with himself in that category. Or maybe nobody wanted to haul him off the stage when Adele wins for 21.

The one album I was sure would get in was The Union, the end-of-2010 collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell. It was praised by critics and even scored a 2011 GRAMMY nomination for the track "If It Wasn't for Bad." But this year, unlike in the past, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences apparently isn't into geezers. There's no Robert Plant or Herbie Hancock or Steely Dan or Tony Bennett in the Album of the Year category to steal the top prize from Adele.

The most tenured act is Foo Fighters, who are still about a solid half decade away from being geezers, and if anyone can pull the rug out from under Adele, it's these guys, nodded here for the second time. (Believe it not, Foo Fighter Dave Grohl's former band, Nirvana, was never recognized in this category, probably because the GRAMMYs were still a few years away from acknowledging cool music.)

I'm also a bit surprised to see former Album of the Year winner Taylor Swift shut out of the major categories, but I probably shouldn't be. Speak Now was a huge commercial success, but it failed to launch the massive hit single that country albums need in order to be serious contenders in the top categories.

I'm still not sure how I feel about combining male and female performers in the vocal categories, though it will make for a bit more suspense on GRAMMY night (February 21). One thing I'm definitely liking, though, is how the top categories are divided between solidly mainstream acts (Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry) and ones you're less likely to hear all over the radio (Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver, Shrillex).

But no Foster the People in Best New Artist, or Record of the Year? A travesty! That's the bad news. The trio did score in Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Pumped Up Kicks" and Best Alternative Music Album for Torches, which is pretty contradictory. But if calling FTP "pop" and "alternative" is what it takes to get these guys two shots at a GRAMMY, who am I to complain?

Here are a few more GRAMMY 2012 hits and misses.

HIT Robyn may still get no love in Billboard, but she's earned two well-deserved Grammy nominations, one for Best Dance Recording for "Call Your Girlfriend," a track from Body Talk, Part 3, which is up for Best Dance/Electronica Album.

MISS I'm not sure what the difference is between Best R&B Performance and Best Traditional R&B Performance, especially when neither category could find a spot for Chris Brown, Beyonce or Kelly Rowland, three of the best singers in R&B, all of whom released albums in 2010.

HIT At least we'll still get our Beyonce vs. Kelly in Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Beyonce and Andre 3000's "Party" is up against Kelly Rowland and Lil Wayne's "Motivation." I'm totally on Team Kelly, whose "Motivation" is one of the best things I heard and saw in 2011 (the video is my favorite clip of the year), but I could see this being Rihanna and Drake's consolation prize for having such a great year.

MISS Consider all of the fantastic dance music produced in 2011. Then consider this: How did Duck Sauce's "Barbra Streisand" end up being deemed one of the six best by the Academy while Jennifer Lopez's brilliant "On the Floor" (yes, brilliant), which remains in heavy rotation under strobe lights around the world, didn't even get a nod?

HIT Colplay's Mylo Xyloto came out too late in the year to be eligible for Album of the year, but both of the first two singles, "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" and "Paradise," were deservedly recognized, in Best Rock Performance and Best Pop/Duo Group Performance, respectively. Here the category distinction actually makes sense.

MISS After giving Esperanza Spalding the Best New Artist Grammy over Drake and Justin Bieber last year, the Academy probably will feel the need to stay out on a limb, which is not such good news for The Band Perry and Nicki Minaj, who deserves the prize just for keeping the dream alive for Women in Rap. If Bon Iver loses, I'll eat the trophy.

But the Academy really likes to mess with us in this category, so I'll be sure to have a light dinner.

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