Of many unexpected admissions and omissions in last night’s Grammy nominee announcement, few are as surprising as the total absence of Whitney Houston on the ballot. Granted, her August release I Look to You was not her finest hour, and it yielded few commercial singles; her often uneven performances to promote it didn’t help.
But she’s also the stuff these shows are made of (26-time Grammy nominee, seven-time winner); her label even moved the release of her album up a day to make sure it was eligible, and Look’s redemption tales seemed calibrated to hit Academy voters right in the solar plexus—and the voting-finger. And yet, not a single nod for the chest-thumping title track or slinky “Million Dollar Bill,” penned by Grammy darling Alicia Keys. So is it the notes Houston hit (or didn’t) that kept her out?
Clearly, what was once one of the greatest natural instruments in pop music is not what it was. But no one ever said that Bob Dylan or Tom Waits sounded like a flock of baby songbirds at sunrise, and artists like Billie Holiday made transcendant art of the quirks and crags inherent in their traditionally “imperfect” voices.
Maybe if Houston had chosen material more like Dylan’s or Holiday’s—something deliberately rougher and more intimate, less reliant on modern R&B polish—Grammy voters would be throwing her a ticker-tape parade today. Or maybe Look’s material just wasn’t good to stand amongst nominees in the R&B fields like Beyonce, Maxwell, or India.Arie (and Pleasure P, Jamie Foxx, Melanie Fiona, Trey Songz…) Give us your theories below.
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