[Author's Note:As we prepare to be insulted by Award Season 2004, I thought it would be kind of fun to look back at Award Season 2003. Actually, none of that is true. I was really proud of this piece when I wrote it, and I wanted to dust it off and get one more mile out of it. I hope you like it.]
You really have to hand it to them. The question is not whether or not this year’s GRAMMY nominees stink. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences might have assembled the worst group of nominees yet for the 46th Annual Grammy Awards. The topic to be considered is who to blame for this shockingly terrible group of nominees.
It is easy to blame NARAS because it is their show and because they have a long list of past transgressions. There is a widely held belief that IQ drops in proportion to the number of people making a decision. Does this apply to Grammy voters? Let’s see, these are the people who think Jethro Tull is a metal artist and thought Rob and Fab (Milli Vanilli) were any kind of artists. And those are just the low-hanging fruits on the Grammy tree of ineptitude.
But is it entirely NARAS’ fault? What can NARAS do if the record companies sign dismal artists who make bad albums? The committee cannot nominate “Exile on Main Street” for Album of the Year every time a particular year is lacking quality albums to honor, although the idea has merit. Someone designated 2003 to be “Year of the Blues” because we all know Martin Scorsese needed another big payday. Maybe we should choose a great album worth revisiting to honor when there are not enough quality nominees to complete the ballot. Can any idea that keeps Grammys out of the hands of Nickelback or Puddle of Mudd be bad?
When assigning blame, we are left with a chicken/egg type- conundrum: does the music really stink or is NARAS incapable of distinguishing the good from the bad? Nominees for Album of the Year (2004):
“Under Construction,” Missy Elliott
“Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” Outkast
“Justified,” Justin Timberlake
“Elephant,” The White Stripes
How in the name of John Lennon’s ass could Justin Timberlake be nominated for Album of the Year? And then there is Evanescence’s album, featuring exactly one hit single. Can you find 10 other people who have heard any song except for “Bring Me to Life?” At least we know the singer and guitarist from Evanescence (Amy and Ben) are just friends. The White Stripes consist of a formerly- married couple who now insist they are brother and sister (and no, they are not from Mississippi). Do not even get me started on Outkast.
Album of the Year is the crown jewel of music’s biggest prize, and those albums are the best they could come up with in 2003. But maybe the other nominees are not all as bad as Album designees. Surely some of the other awards have more deserving artists. Nominees for Song of the Year (2004):
“Crazy in Love,” Beyonce featuring Jay-Z;
“Where is the Love,” Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake;
“Lose Yourself,” Eminem;
“Hey Ya!,” Outkast.
The best thing I can say for this group of nominations is they are no worse than those nominated for Album of the Year. Coldplay’s “Clocks” is the best U2 song Bono never got around to writing. The song echoes U2 so completely Coldplay included an Adam Clayton-style bass line, something no group would do on purpose. But U2 songs are good, and so is “Clocks” which naturally means it has almost no chance to win. The only hope Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow has of hoisting Grammy gold in this category is if the other four nominees splinter the vote. I do not know how this could not happen: the offending songs that are also nominated mine the same banal territory. Still, I have a hunch if Outkast does not land this one, Beyonce and Jay-Z will.
Maybe I am approaching this the wrong way. Perhaps I should try and look at this from a different perspective. If I liked the nominations, I would sit through the three-hour telecast and listen to acceptance speeches devoid of grace, class, insight, or intelligence. I would watch some B-list celebrity present the Best Polka Album of the Year. I just got the precious gift of three hours added to my life. But since we have already started to dissect the list of nominees, we will take a peak at other outrages and oddities.
Best Male Pop Vocal Performance is a hoot this year: two dead guys, two old guys, and a boy-band leftover. George Harrison and Warren Zevon (dead), Sting and Michael McDonald (old) and Justin Timberlake. George Harrison, a Beatle, might actually lose an award to a member of N’Sync. I would vote for Ringo before I would vote for any member of N’Sync. I will pray the masters of intergalactic karma intercede.
Let’s set the venom aside for a second and have a good laugh. Best Male Rock Vocal Performance features Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. I love Bob Dylan. The man is a genius. I am not a big Tom Waits guy, but he is a respected songwriter and veteran artist. But they are not nominated for Song of the Year or Album of the Year. They are nominated for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Have you heard either of these guys sing? Waits makes Dylan sound perfectly melodious. They are pitted against Lenny Kravitz, Dave Matthews, and David Bowie. Bowie’s “New Killer Star” is another gem in his late-career revival. Lenny Kravitz will win.
Metallica received a nomination in the Metal category, but I think they have now reached the point where they are about as deserving and relevant as Jethro Tull was 15 years ago. Marilyn Manson also got a nomination here. I had kind of forgotten all about him. In fact, I do not think anyone has seen him since Ozzy Osbourne made a drunken pass at him on the Osbourne’s television show. Heavy metal music has been seriously de-fanged in the early part of the 21st Century. Does metal even exist anymore? The 80’s version was stupid, but fun. The 90’s version was stupid and gave us Fred Durst. It will take years for metal to recover from that.
Train and Nickelback are pitted against each other in the Best Rock Song category. Fortunately, the White Stripes are in this category and this looks like one of the places voters will try and make up for not giving them the Album of the Year award. I do not ever want to hear the phrase “Grammy-award winning” in front of either Train or Nickelback. In the Best Rock Album category Nickelback received another nomination, but we get to swap Train for matchbox 20. Kazaa and Morpheus are not killing music. Train, Nickelback, and matchbox 20 are.
Joining the dearly departed Warren Zevon and George Harrison among the dead honorees are Johnny and June Carter Cash. Death may not help George and Warren, although I doubt they will walk away empty handed. Johnny and June are going to rake the awards in left and right. And they should.
So what did NARAS get right? Did they get anything right? Not enough to matter. David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Jane’s Addiction, Radiohead, U2, and Coldplay are among the nominees. Of these, only Johnny is a lock to win something. And all that hooey about what an honor it is to be nominated does not wash. Being in the company Train, Nickelback, and Justin Timberlake is nothing to feel good about, especially if you lose to them.
Chickens. Eggs. Who is to blame for the condition of the Grammys and the state of rock and roll? Does it really matter? I do not think it is worth the effort to understand why bad music prospers. I do not think it is worth the effort to try and blame a single culprit. Popular music is a wreck. Fix it!
As much fun as these award shows can be, they do more or less miss the point. And maybe I have missed the point in denigrating an award show yet to happen. Art is a beautiful thing, and it is experienced and filtered by individuals in a subjective manner. I cannot prove to you that “Yours, Mine & Ours” by the Pernice Brothers was the best album of the year. I cannot explain why I liked Zwan’s album better than matchbox 20 other than to say I liked Zwan’s album better than matchbox 20. It boils down to my favorite band is better than your favorite band and my dad can beat up your dad. Opinions are great and debating is fun. Legitimate criticism and analysis of an artwork or an art form can be valid and maybe even valuable. In the end, I do not know what a Best Album is. I do not know what a Grammy measures. I just know when the curtain goes up on the 46th Annual Grammy Awards I will be watching something else.