Happy to Be Wrong [January 2014]
You’ll recall we made our Grammy predictions last December. In hindsight, we should’ve anticipated how well Daft Punk would do (more on that later). A year ago Grammy made history when three alternative acts swept the top three categories. Last Sunday a dance artist walked away with the awards for record and album of the year. Only two dance or dance-leaning albums won album of the year before Daft Punk: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. And only one dance-oriented song won record of the year before last Sunday: Jackson’s “Beat It.” It’s too bad “Get Lucky” wasn’t nominated for song of the year. The French duo could’ve pulled a hat trick where the top three categories are concerned.
Unlike many non-American artists, the Daft Punk album employed mainly veteran U.S. producers/songwriters/musicians/engineers, including Nile Rodgers (Chic), Pharrell Williams (The Neptunes), Giorgio Moroder (Donna Summer), Paul Williams (ASCAP president and a prolific songwriter in the 1970s), and Julian Casablancas (The Strokes). If their friends in the industry all voted for “Random Access Memories,” well, that might have been enough to tip the balance. And the lead single was embraced by radio and consumers immediately out of the box—highly unusual for a dance artist who had never scored a big top 40 hit in the U.S. before.
Dance music also enjoyed its biggest crossover success last year—after many lean years between the mid-1990s and late 2000s. Several dance tracks were top three hits at mainstream top 40 radio; one of which reached the top across all radio formats. But unlike the 1970s, there was no talk of backlash. The members who voted for Daft Punk were perhaps thinking of these other dance songs from 2013. Indeed, Avicii should’ve been nominated for record of the year and some other vocal category; Zedd should’ve received a nomination for song of the year.
Small consolation: Thanks to that TV commercial for Dr. Dre’s headphones, Aloe Blacc’s new single is at least getting played at mainstream top 40 radio.
Grammy Nominations [December 2013]
We had hoped “Clarity,” “Wake Me Up!,” or “Don’t You Worry Child” would get at least one nomination in the top three categories. Guess the Grammy committee decided to let Daft Punk represent the EDM wing and leave it at that. The fact the French duo received nominations for record and album of the year is still a minor victory for dance music. We’d like to think Avicii and Zedd almost made the cut.
In general, the nominees in the three major categories are the most conventional in years. No veteran artist with an obscure album got the nod (think Paul McCartney); no country/triple-A/jazz/traditional pop artist received a nomination (Taylor Swift is much more than just a country star). Of the songs nominated for record and song of the year, every one was a big hit at top 40 radio. Perhaps this reflects the current strength of top 40. Yes, mainstream top 40’s resurgence began around 2009, but the Grammys always lag behind a little bit.
We are surprised such Grammy-bait artists as Bastille, Passenger, and Kacey Musgraves didn’t receive any nomination in the big categories. “Pompeii” and “Let Her Go” haven’t peaked in the U.S. yet—so maybe next year.
We never for a moment thought Justin Timberlake would be nominated in these top categories as some others surmised. The Grammy committee apparently agrees; Bruno Mars is definitely the current prince of pop. Nevertheless, “Locked out of Heaven” is somewhat of a surprise nominee for song of the year; the other surprise is “Roar.” The winner will be a lyrical battle between the ambitious “Same Love” and the clever “Royals.” This is one of the rare cases where the two frontrunners’ lyrics are more compelling than the music.
The only way for “Get Lucky” to win record of the year is for “Royals,” “Radioactive,” and “Blurred Lines” to split the votes evenly. Mars doesn’t really have a shot here either, and the plagiarism controversy will hurt Robin Thicke. So the record of the year should go to either “Royals” or “Radioactive.” Historically, the artist closest to the rock genre usually has an advantage in this category (maybe it has something to do with voter demographics).
With no rock artist represented among the album of the year nominees, Swift and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are your best bets. So here are our final predictions.
Song of the year (for composition): “Same Love”
Record of the year: “Royals”
Album of the year: Taylor Swift
By the way, Avicii is conspicuously missing among the nominees for best dance recording; Zedd did not receive a nomination for best dance album. The Grammy folks still can’t seem to get the three dance categories right.
If these award shows want to attract more viewers, they should display on screen each nominee’s percentage of votes in the major categories for the home audience. Break down the numbers for only the top three vote getters if they don’t want to reveal the nominee who got the lowest number of votes. Do this and watch social media explode as people talk about the different margins of victory. Don’t we all want to know who came in second?
Was the Grammy Committee Watching? [October 2013]
Avicii wasn’t there, but that didn’t stop Aloe Blacc from performing an unplugged version of “Wake Me Up!” on “Dancing With the Stars” last night (check it out on ABC’s official site). He sang throughout the two-hour show, including his international hit “I Need a Dollar.” If nothing else, this TV appearance should help push “Wake” closer to the top of the U.S. charts. He should move on to “The Voice” and “The X Factor” next.
Will the Grammys Deliver? [October 2013]
After three alternative acts swept the top three awards at the Grammys last time, we’re hoping dance music will be recognized this year in the major categories.
We figure Robin Thicke, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Lorde will probably be nominated for record of the year and/or song of the year. The other two slots could easily go to Taylor Swift, Bastille, Passenger, Imagine Dragons, Pink, or Emeli Sande. But if the Grammy committee wants to make a bit of history, there are several EDM artists to choose from, including Swedish House Mafia, Zedd, Avicii, and Capital Cities. Daft Punk, whose “Get Lucky” was all set to be the song of the summer until Thicke came along, is probably the one with the best chance. The French duo’s album is also the only EDM recording that might be nominated for album of the year.
If we’re not mistaken, the vocal performance categories are usually reserved for artists who do the singing themselves. There ought to be a way to recognize the performances of Aloe Blacc and Foxes on Avicii’s and Zedd’s crossover hits, respectively.
The Predictable Grammys [November 2011]
The nominations haven't been announced yet, but we can name the winner in the top categories. Every year there's an artist whose sound fits the Grammy profile more closely than others. So we predict Adele's album "21" and the single "Rolling in the Deep" will sweep the three top awards. She might face competition from herself as "Someone Like You" will be nominated for Song of the Year. We predict Foster the People's "Pumped up Kicks" will be nominated in at least one of the major categories, but older members won't vote for it because of the lyrics.
The Last Laugh [March 2011]
One artist was robbed of the Grammy for best new artist. No, we’re not referring to Justin Bieber—this is the Grammys, not the Kids’ Choice Awards. Mumford & Sons deserved to win it and had a very good shot, considering their album made the top 10 in January. Well, thanks to their rousing performance on the Grammy telecast, it zoomed to No. 2 on the U.S. album chart.
Many fans were probably hoping Cee Lo Green would win one of the major awards. The same voters who have consistently snubbed hip-hop artists over the years (unless you consider Lauryn Hill hardcore hip-hop) just could not stomach a profane song title. But after Green’s flamboyant performance with Gwyneth Paltrow and the Muppets, his song also jumped to No. 2, matching the same peak he enjoyed as part of Gnarls Barkley (“Crazy”). Mumford & Sons and Green were kept out of the summit by two artists who also performed at the Grammys: Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, respectively.
After years of trying to cram in as many awards as possible into the broadcast, the producers finally gave up and decided to turn the Grammys into a wall-to-wall concert. So only about 10 awards were handed out in the front of the camera; the other 90-plus awards were announced before the TV show. That’s a welcome development to record companies since they really care about the sales bump from shows like this. Historically, a live performance has a bigger impact on sales than winning, especially in the age of downloads. Now if only CBS could do something about the nominations. The committee in charge of the three Grammy dance/electronic categories should start over.
The Grannies [February 2010]
In the old days, the only way to catch a glimpse of some artists was on award shows like the Grammys. After MTV and now the Internet, there’s really no reason to watch these award shows. The trouble with the Grammys is that its members pretended the rock ‘n’ roll thing never happened. So for years Elvis Presley and the Beatles never won anything (Presley did win for his gospel recordings). As late as the 1990s, Tony Bennett would win in the pop category; they eventually fixed this anomaly by introducing the traditional pop category (should’ve done it in the 1960s).
To drag the Grammys into the 21st century, they appointed a blue-ribbon panel a few years ago to handpick the nominations in the major categories. While this is an improvement, the end results look a little too neat and regimented (for example, different genres are equally represented every year, a sort of musical quota system).
The 2009 record/album/song of the year nominations are surprisingly devoid of quotas—with one exception. Good thing Dave Matthews Band failed to win album of the year last Sunday. Now that “Use Somebody” was named record of the year, maybe top 40 radio will give “Sex on Fire” a second chance. This is the first single off the same Kings of Leon album and is better than “Somebody.”
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