Once again, the Grammys are behind the times
One of the few advantages of aging, as I’m unfortunately learning, is that one grows more tolerant and accepting of the absurdities of life. Take the Grammys. I just about leapt out of my chair and hurled my TV set out the window when Natalie Cole’s necrophiliac duet with her late father Nat King Cole on ”Unforgettable” walked away with major awards – nearly four decades after the song had originally been written and recorded. THIS was the best the Grammys could come up with?
So when the 43rd annual nominees were announced Wednesday morning, not only didn’t I get so rattled; in a strange way, the usual head scratching and eye rolling that accompanies the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’ list of nominees was sort of comforting. Consider that, at the moment, the music world feels hung upside down. The album format is dying at the hands of MP3 files, Dr. Dre (never mind Nirvana or the Beatles) is the starting point of modern music, rock is now a niche genre, and choreography has replaced guitars as the instrument of choice. Hell, most of today’s biggest acts were only in first or second grade when MC Hammer was in his baggy pantsed prime.
In this scenario, there was something reassuring about the blips and blunders that dotted the 99 mindboggling Grammy categories. Even the errors felt like a tradition. Beck’s forced faux R&B album ”Midnite Vultures” up for album of the year? (Reading the complete album category list, which includes overrated and disappointing albums by genuine greats Paul Simon and Steely Dan, was akin to watching our President elect announce his cabinet: There was the unsettling sense of adults being back in charge and forcing their values on us whether we wanted them to or not.) Shelby Lynne cited under Best New Artist, even though ”I Am Shelby Lynne” is her FIFTH album? Paul McCartney’s ”Liverpool Sound Collage” cited in the alternative field? (Is there any better proof of the strange universe of modern pop that Beck gets a mainstream album of the year nomination while an ex Beatle is considered underground?)
The groaners don’t end anywhere near there. Bon Jovi, matchbox twenty, and No Doubt for Best Rock Album? (Is there any better proof that rock’s in serious trouble in the new century?) A slew of nominations for Sisqó, who seems likely to follow the end vowel inclined likes of Gerardo and Taco into the dustbins of pop history? And why is D’Angelo – whose pedigree as a singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist marks him as a likely Grammy fave – relegated to the R&B categories? Nominating his ”Voodoo” for album of the year would have been not only natural but a welcome respite from that field’s overwhelmingly Caucasian lineup.
With so many categories, the Grammy folks were bound to get a few things right, and you have to give the deciding committee a few props for recognizing worthy albums and songs the masses ignored or mostly passed on: Fiona Apple’s ”When the Pawn…,” Johnny Cash’s ”Solitary Man,” and Patti Smith’s ”Glitter in Their Eyes” all walked away with a nomination or two. You have to love the very thought of Jay-Z’s ”Big Pimpin”’ on the list, if only for the cringes it must have induced in older Grammy voters. Even Eminem’s surprising Album of the Year nomination for ”The Marshall Mathers LP” felt historic and revolutionary, even if he stands as much chance of winning in that category as Dick Cheney does of remaining completely healthy during four stress filled years on the job.
But let’s not dwell on the positive. Instead of agonizing over Grammy foulups, bleeps, and blunders, let’s revel in them. All’s wrong with the Grammy world, and therefore a few things on the planet remain on track.