The 53rd Annual Grammy Awards finally has its nominees, and -- as is custom -- there's some real duds, shockers and pleasant surprises on the list. Here's a breakdown of what we found in the popular music categories, from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry to Ray LaMontagne and Esperanza Spalding.
The Album of the Year category should feature an asterisk in its name, considering it’s just letting “Collections of Songs Roughly the Length of an Album” and “EP” waltz right in there. Katy Perry made some unforgettable singles this year, but – as I wrote in my review – Katy Perry doesn’t really make great albums. And perhaps the voting Academy felt bad that “The Fame” didn’t win in 2009, so Lady Gaga's "The Fame Monster" gets a pass before she even puts out a real sophomore set. PATIENCE, voters, you can coddle her all you want after “Born This Way” drops.
… That is, a good butt-kissing ought be issued in the 54th ceremony, considering “Bad Romance” didn’t get the nod in Record of the Year. Don’t get me wrong -- “Nothin’ on You” from B.o.B. and this year’s golden boy Bruno Mars is a very, very, very pleasant song. But it’s in-store music at the local Quik Trip compared to the luscious muscle memory of singing “rah-rah-ah-ah-ah roma-roma-ah” aloud.
But, hey, how 'bout that Bruno Mars? It doesn't hurt that dude co-wrote Cee Lo Green's "F*ck You"/"Forget You," but you had to know something was up when he took the stage to perform twice. Seven nominations is a monster.
Sade gets no big album, song or record nod – just Pop Performance in a Group or Duo, and R&B Performance by a Group or Duo, for “Babyfather” and “Soldier of Love” respectively. In the latter category, she and her band are up against two cover songs and a Chris Brown track, so it feels a bit like a pity prize to dominate.
A live version of Beyonce’s “Halo” makes the cut for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance? Isn’t that like bypassing thousands of unique, fresh-made meals for some decent leftovers from two years ago?
It’s a little uncomfortable that Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” only got one nod. And it was for a live version, go figure. Another shocking realization that Grammy eligibility doesn’t always run in tandem with popularity. NOT. THAT. POPULARITY. MATTERS. RIGHT. GRAMMYS?
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Popularity wasn't much of an element with Ray LaMontagne's "Beg, Steal or Borrow," the wild card in Song of the Year. While many predictions put Mumford & Sons' "Little Lion Man" in that slot, the soul/rock singer finally pulled off his first nomination.
As Melinda Newman predicted, there were no standout geezer acts that crept into Album of the Year, but there’s Neil Young and – a little more surprisingly -- Jeff Beck all over the place, for rock songs and rock album categories. Elton John and Leon Russell snuck one in for Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Eric Clapton, who I forget is even up to anything these days, scored a nod for Rock Vocal Performance (alongside another live song performance, Paul McCartney on the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”).
Esperanza Spalding will be this year’s Adele, with people clamoring to their keyboards in wonderment on just who the heck she is. It’s a pleasant surprise, boiled in with the yawn-worthy unsurprises of Drake and Justin Bieber.
I say this with nothing but respect and love, and I know the difference between the two artists: but Miranda Lambert and her fans should be thankful that September 2009 to September 2010 was a quiet span for Taylor Swift. Hear me out, I swear… I just don’t think Grammy Nomination voters have room in their brain for two young female country artists at one time , and if the stars hadn’t aligned as they did, those votes would have split for the Swifter, as they’ve done before. It is a great triumph to see Lambert on top like she is right now and, too, another pleasant surprise.
That being said: Does the academy even listen to country music? Do they even like country music? Do they not call their cousins in Nashville? Is it a crowd-sourced genre whose kingmaking subsists solely on visual impressions, compiled over time? Jewel, really?
And while we’re on the topic of not listening to things, I could squint my eyes and the hard rock and metal categories would look generally the same as they 15 years ago. Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Slayer… STP, Ozzy, Soundgarden, the dudes from the Foos and QOTSA…
Two Columbia artists made it into Best Alternative Music Album: Broken Bells (Danger Mouse and The Shins’ James Mercer) and Band of Horses. Band of Horses used to be on indie Sub Pop. The Shins were nominated in 2008 in the same Grammy category, and lost. And used to be on Sub Pop. Those two acts are up against albums from three independent artists (depending on your definition of “independent”): Arcade Fire, the Black Keys and Vampire Weekend. I feel a tingle of intensity.
Musical kindreds Big Boi and Janelle Monae both put out imaginative urban records this year, but only Monae managed to get an album nod. The Outkast rapper only showed up as a co-performer on Urban/Alternative Performance nomination “Tightrope” (with Monae) and as a co-performer on Rap Performance by a Duo or Group on “Shutterbugg” (with Cutty). It’s a little bit of a shocker voters preferred R&B/pop flavors of B.o.B. and Drake for Best Rap Album. It is still called “rap,” right?
Robyn and La Roux for Dance Recording? Yay. No Kelly Rowland? Boo.
Re: "Glee" with two nods? And Susan Boyle for... anything? I'd rather the Academy get back to listening to more metal and country records than watching TV. "Don't Stop Believin'" and "I Dreamed a Dream" moved a lot of copies, but I'd just laugh and laugh to hear someone like Stevie Wonder or MadonnaBarbra StreisandSting Annie Lennox read "Glee's" name off a ballot.
The 53rd Annual Grammy Awards will air on Feb. 13.