Grammy Bloat

grammy.jpgWhat would happen if all the entertainment award shows took their cues from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences? One shudders to think. Instead of a single Best Picture award, an Oscar each would go to a drama, comedy, musical, sex farce, dramatized biography and a roman à clef.

If you don’t believe it, then consider the 2006 Grammy nominees. The ballot alone is 56 pages long. There are 51 different fields, comprising 108 separate awards.

Looking over the voluminous document, some questions immediately spring to mind. Why is Hawaii the only state with its own category? There’s an award for Tejano, but that’s Tex-Mex, which is not the same as Texas. Besides, there’s also a Best Mexican Music award, which doesn’t seem fair.

Perhaps it’s payback for all that 700-mile fence talk.

Another burning mystery – just what is a “pop” record, anyway? That catch-all field includes one prize each for male, female and duo/group vocals – in addition to collaborations and instrumentals. The Big “Pop” Tent includes everyone from Bruce Hornsby to the Black Eyed Peas, Pink and Enya.

Enya?

The real trick, it would seem, is NOT getting nominated for one of the things, right?

Hardly. Take, for example, Record of the Year and Song of the Year; four songs are nominated for BOTH awards. One of those, “Taking the Long Way” by the Dixie Chicks, also has a shot at Best Country Song. The Academy was apparently unaware that nobody, least of all the Dixie Chicks ,considers them a country band anymore.

What’s most offensive about this year’s Grammy class is that, with thousands of possible picks for 540 nomination slots, the same names keep coming up over and over. Emblematic of this sorry state of affairs is Sheryl Crow’s Best Female Pop Vocal nomination – for a cover of an old James Taylor song (“You Can Close Your Eyes”) included on a record which can only be bought at Starbucks coffee stores.

Anybody wondering about the music business’s elitist snob image need look no further than this. Crow, by the way, also picked up a Best Pop Vocal Collaboration nomination for her duet with Sting (“Always On Your Side”).

I expect that “Best Duet With Sting” will eventually become a standalone category.

Peter Frampton, who Grammy pretty much ignored during his Seventies heyday, is nominated for an instrumental cover of a Soundgarden song. I suppose that’s better than the Best Heavy Metal nomination Pat Boone got a few years back.

Gnarls Barkley is up for Record of the Year, and is also nominated in the R&B category. But the kicker is that the band’s infectious hit “Crazy” is in line for Best Alternative Album.

Alternative to what?

Bob Dylan’s roots-fortified “Modern Times” disc gets an out-of-place nod for Best Rock song (“Someday Baby”), where he keeps company with Beck and John Mayer, along with a Neil Young protest song and a Tom Petty record that no one outside the industry has even heard.

More just for Dylan, perhaps, is his nomination for Best Contemporary Folk/Americana album. That category is full of many “don’t know what to call them, but they deserve a statue” contenders – like the Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris collaboration (“All the Roadrunning”), Rosanne Cash’s meditation on family and death (“Black Cadillac”) and insider darling Guy Clark (“Workbench Songs”). Jackson Browne rounds out the list with a career retrospective (“Live Acoustic Volume 1”), but after ignoring everything from “Doctor My Eyes” to “Running on Empty,” why does Grammy bother?

That’s the Academy’s biggest sin – they’re always at least one or two years behind the curve. There’s a record nominated (“Travelin’ Through”) that lost an Oscar bid nearly a year ago – in other words, a song made in 2005 is being considered on a 2007 awards show.

That they try to compensate for their myopia by puffing up the ceremony with awards for things like for box set design, liner notes and “Best Spoken Word” release – a euphemism for books on tape – only makes things worse.

It’s utterly fitting that this year’s show, to be broadcast February 7, 2007, will be hosted by faux newsman Stephen Colbert. Colbert, of course, coined 2006’s “word of the year.” That word, in case you didn’t know, is “truthiness” – defined as “something that seems true because an individual wants it to be.”

The reality-battered record industry must love the notion that there are 108 deserving artists on this year’s pathetic list of nominees, and surely believe that all that precious metal is a harbinger of strong times ahead.

The whole idea reeks of truthiness.

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