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Grammy Nods a Bit Disappointing This Year

Choosing proven artists, or playing to the public?

In case you weren’t paying attention, the Grammy nominations were an all-day affair yesterday. It started with the announcing of four major categories on CBS This Morning by Ed Sheeran and Pharrell Williams, followed by a trickle of announcements via Twitter throughout the morning and early afternoon—culminating in a Christmas-themed prime-time special, A Very Grammy Christmas, during which the Album of the Year nominees were revealed.

In my humble opinion, the big, long, drawn-out reveal (which was in itself a bit melodramatic) was the best part about it.

Of course, every year the Grammy nods come out, there’s a slew of discussion about the surprises and the snubs, who got nominated, who should have gotten nominated, and why. This year is no different in that regard. But there are enough “rogue” nominees on this years’ list to create a bit of suspicion–that lead me to wonder whether the people at the Grammys are really doing their job, or whether they are succumbing to public pressure.

Let me unpack that.

While it’s normal for the Grammy nominations to parallel record sales and airplay charts to some level (after all, good music tends to get played and purchased), the thing that differentiates the Grammys from other awards is that the Grammys are more about the artistry displayed by these recording artists than about how well their music did on the market. This isn’t a “people’s choice” kind of thing; it’s members of the record industry voting on the music of their colleagues. That’s what makes the Grammys more prestigious than other music awards—a Grammy award represents the respect and acknowledgement of your peers and colleagues within the music industry itself, just like the Oscars in the film community.

Or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.

This year, while there are definitely some deserving candidates on the list, there are also more than a few nominations that are leaving us scratching our heads. Not every top-selling artist is truly putting out top-shelf music, after all. There are some that are displaying legitimate talent, and some that are putting out catchy hooks just to sell records. There are some who are serious about their craft, and there are some who are just out there shaking their asses to get attention. (Don’t act surprised—you know exactly what I mean.) There are also artists that show a lot of promise, but are just getting started and haven’t had a chance to prove their mettle yet. My complaint is that there are too many people on this year’s list who either are too green to make a fair determination, or who are selling records but lacking in artistic integrity—and it’s leading me to wonder if the Grammys are skewing their nods to lean less toward artistry and more toward current public opinion for the purpose of generating ratings.

There are lots of places to get the full run-down of nominees, and I’ll leave that to others. But let me just give a few examples of what I mean—nominees who claim to a Grammy is limited at best.

 

Meghan Trainor

Oh, yeah, I know I’m gonna get in trouble for this one, but let’s get this one out of the way first. (Bring it on, angry commenters—I’m ready for ya.) There’s no doubt that Trainor is a surprise success this year with her smash hit “All About That Bass,” and I’ve got nothing against the song itself. It’s catchy, it’s got an affirming message, and it’s an all-around great song. What’s more, with MIMO’s coverage of the Durango Songwriter’s Expo (where Trainor first landed a publishing deal), we know a bit of her backstory, and we know how hard she’s worked to enjoy her current success. Believe me, no one’s happier for her than we are.

But guys—it’s one song. Yeah, it’s already gone multi-Platinum, but it’s her first hit, and it just took off a few months ago. She hasn’t even released her first full-length label album yet, and her second single “Lips Are Movin'” sounds a whole lot like her first. In this case, it’s not that she’s not talented—it’s that it’s too soon. Trainor hasn’t been in the public spotlight long enough, nor released enough music, to prove her range as an artist yet. To throw her two major Grammy nominations (Record of the Year and Song of the Year) is just a bit premature, and casts doubt on the integrity of the nomination process. It would have been more appropriate to wait until the girl at least has her major label release on the market (due out early 2015) and nominate her next year. I’m certain she’ll actually deserve it by then.

 

Hozier

Here’s another example of a premature nod. “Take Me To Church” (up for Song of the Year) has been making the rounds internationally this past year, but we’ve only been hearing it in the U.S. for a couple of months—and again, Hozier has no major full-length release, only two E.P.’s, the last of which was only released two months ago. Hozier hasn’t had time to prove his range, so it looks like he got the Grammy nod on his chart success alone.

 

Miley Cyrus

Really? Do I need to explain this one? This is a performer who has proven her ability to entertain a crowd—but then again, so have strippers. Miley’s musical prowess might indeed be there, but if it is, it’s cloaked under a shroud of unsightly twerking and outrageous antics, and only rarely do we see how well she can actually sing. You have to think the only reason Bangerz is nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album is because of the chart successes and album sales—and most of that is due to her notoriety, not her talent.

Now, these examples aren’t to suggest there aren’t some truly legitimate contenders. Beyoncé has had an admittedly great year, and it seems fitting that she should land seven Grammy nominations (also surpassing Dolly Parton for total number of lifetime Grammy nods in the process). Blonde Aussie rapper Iggy Azalea is this year’s Lorde, and while she’s still finding her feet as an artist, she’s got enough material out there to show she’s got promise. While Sam Smith is another newcomer with a limited amount of material, his vocals alone on “Stay With Me” prove he’s got the chops. Rock and alternative artists like Ryan Adams, Arcade Fire and Jack White produced great material this year, and totally deserve their nods. The hip-hop/R&B field in general made a nice showing this year, so few arguments there as to who made the cut (our hip-hop/R&B writer Deborah Jane covers these a bit more thoroughly). And even though country artist Brandy Clark is seen as a “dark horse” with modest album sales at best, we’ve had our eye on her for awhile, and 12 Stories is bursting with artistic merit—so that’s one example of the Recording Academy actually overlooking the sales numbers in handing her a nomination for Best Country Album.

But really, guys? Miley Cyrus?

The thing is, you have recording artists who are artists, and recording artists who are basically pandering for profit. You have your Beyoncés on one hand, and your Britney Spears’ on the other. The Grammys are supposed to be honoring the proven artists, not the other kind. This year’s nods reflect too many examples of artists who are either unproven, or who have proven themselves in all the wrong ways. And that leads me to question whether there are some ulterior motives in selecting these nominees. We can only hope the voting members will stay true to their principles and vote for the ones who actually deserve the awards.


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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

David Tillman is an independent composer/arranger whose primary work involves writing jingles for commercials for radio and television, with several film and television placements to his credit as well. David has a fascination for all things related to the music business and the music industry in general, an obsession which his wife finds to be mildly unhealthy at times. His personal tastes in music are in electronica and industrial rock, and include The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and Nine Inch Nails (he loves that Trent Reznor is writing soundtracks!). When not in his office or in his man-cave, David enjoys skiing, hiking, the occasional game of golf, and sometimes just lounging by the pool. David lives with his wife and three children in Los Angeles, CA.

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