Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why I Care Even Less About This Year's GRAMMY Awards Than Usual

What's up with the Academies?

Last year one of them, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, chose for its Best Picture, a film directed by a man whom the members didn't see fit to honor with so much as a Best Director nomination. I suppose that Argo, a film that scored a Best Supporting Actor nod for Alan Arkin among its seven total nominations and three wins, made itself. Ben Affleck didn't have a thing to do with it.

Not to be outdone, this year the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which is set to hand out the 56th annual GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, January 26, wants to tell me that a 17-year-old newcomer whose breakthrough single netted her Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance nominations to go with her Best Pop Vocal Album nod (for her debut, Pure Heroine) doesn't rank as of its five Best New Artists?

Nothing against the five Best New Artist GRAMMY nominees -- James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Kacey Musgraves and Ed Sheeran -- all of whom are talented, credible contenders, but Lorde really should demand a recount. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis aside, no one who made the cut had a 2013 single that was anywhere near as huge as Lorde's "Royals," which spent nine weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100.

But it's not just about chart rankings. Lorde, a Kiwi who has put New Zealand on the pop map for the first time since Crowded House's Neil Finn (I know, Kimbra -- but "Someone That I Used to Know" was really all about Gotye) and arguably New Zealand's biggest female musical export since Kiri Ti Kanawa, is a true pop rarity: a teenager making quality, sophisticated music that she'll still be able to be proud of in 10 years.

Straddling the mainstream and the cutting edge while wading in electronic, hip-hop and trip-hop waters, Pure Heroine is just as much of a pop anomaly: a critically acclaimed commercial success that's worthy of its four-star accolades. Sometimes I could swear I hear a touch of Fiona Apple in her voice, which only makes me love her more.

Even better than Pure Heroine: The Love Club EP, which was released last March and is more alterna-pop ("Million Dollar Bills," not to be confused with Whitney Houston's "Million Dollar Bill," sounds like Bow Wow Wow without the Burundi drums), less Lana Del Rey than its full-length follow-up

Despite her chart success (this week, "Team" becomes her second Top 10 hit on Billboard's Hot 100) and critical plaudits, I'd dare say that Lorde hasn't gotten enough credit. She's a teen pop star who manages to sound at once youthfully naive and preternaturally seasoned. She can appeal to the masses without having to flash so much as a naked shoulder. Sex sells, but not for her. She doesn't have to twerk or swing nude on a wrecking ball to be noticed. Her music stands on its own, spare but fully clothed.

The GRAMMY voters obviously appreciated her enough to nominate her for four major awards. Did they forget to shortlist her for Best New Artist because she sounds like an accomplished veteran who's been making music for years? I'd like to say yes, but considering that at least one past Best New Artist winner -- 2001's Shelby Lynne -- was 32 years old, a decade into her recording career and on her sixth studio album when she took the prize, the Academy is not above giving this particular award to accomplished veterans who have been making music for years. It's just another one of those GRAMMY mysteries, like one-hit wonder Starland Vocal Band's 1977 Best New Artist win over Boston and The Brothers Johnson or Milli Vanilli's 1990 triumph in the same category, that nobody can explain.

On the plus side, if Lorde wins Record of the Year, she'll be the second New Zealander in two years to do so. (Kimbra also shared Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with Gotye for "Someone That I Used to Know" last year.) But even if she has little chance of besting the stiff competition in any of her four categories on Sunday, she can already thank GRAMMY's egregious Best New Artist oversight that she'll never have to worry about being another Starland Vocal Band.

The Best of Lorde (Her Six Best Songs)

6. "400 Lux" (from Pure Heroine)

5. "Biting Down" (from The Love Club EP)

4. "Tennis Court" (from Pure Heroine)

3. "Million Dollar Bills" (from The Love Club EP)

2. "The Love Club" (from The Love Club EP)

1. "Team" (from Pure Heroine)

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