Friday, December 08, 2006

My Yearly Lesson in Righteous Anger

The 2006 Grammy Award nominations were released today, and I went through the same motions I always do. Knowing I would be disappointed, I clicked on the list and was sent into a spiral of anger, condescension, and disbelief.

On one hand, I don't know why I care. The Grammys are and always have been a sham--Murphy Lee has as many gramophones as James Brown, Black Eyed Peas have more than both of them, and Christopher Cross has as many as all of those people combined. Hey, guess what's a better album than The Marshall Mathers LP? Why, Steely Dan's Two Against Nature, of course. You can keep on throwing out fun facts like that all day. (The Beatles are only three Grammys better than Alison Krauss, for example.) This whole production is a politically correct popularity contest voted on by industry types, and anyone bothering to read this post has probably already dismissed them as meaningless. Awards in general are mostly counter-productive to artistic progress.


Sir Georg Solti, former conductor of the Chicago Symphony, owner of 31 Grammys. BALLLLINNNNN'!

Somehow though, it does matter. These awards are, like it or not, part of our zeitgeist, and people who are completely uninterested in popular music for the entire year tune in and discover "that young sleepy-looking guy with the gravelly voice" (John Mayer) or "that lady who wears the turban" (India Arie). Musicians' entire careers can be made based on one performance, as shown by Ricky Martin in 1999, and it's no coincidence that whoever wins Album of the Year sees his sales figures balloon hundreds of percent the next week. In fact, to everyone other than snarky blog-writers, the Grammys are kind of a big deal. So here are my thoughts on this year's mistakes. There are over one hundred categories, so I'll cover the ones that are halfway notable.

RECORD OF THE YEAR
"Be Without You" - Mary J. Blige
"You're Beautiful" - James Blunt
"Not Ready to Make Nice" - Dixie Chicks
"Crazy" - Gnarls Barkley
"Put Your Records On" - Corinne Bailey Rae

This looks about right. There are two songs that actually belong but won't win, and the rest of the nominees follow a formula. Mary J. is an unimpeachable demi-legend by now, and you can throw her into any of these categories without offending someone--and sadly, that's the object of these proceedings. Likewise, Corinne Bailey Rae is the 2006 version of Grammy's racially indeterminate pop singer-songwriter of whom few in Middle America have heard (see Jones, Norah; Arie, India; Hill, Lauryn). Finally, James Blunt is the one-hit wonder pussy. Can anyone else tell me why that song was all over my radio? It's not a terrabull song, but you can go to any coffee shop in the country and hear that exact same track--why James Blunt? What made his work stand above the millions of more worthy artists? These things baffle me.


"Who the hell am I? I've never heard of myself."

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Taking the Long Way - Dixie Chicks
St. Elsewhere- Gnarls Barkley
Continuum- John Mayer
Stadium Arcadium- Red Hot Chili Peppers
FutureSex/LoveSounds- Justin Timberlake

This category is proof that the voters fill out their ballots without even listening to the albums. By all accounts, The Chili Peppers' and John Mayer's records this year were mediocre or even sub-par, but they're academy favorites and are still up here. The Dixie Chicks are the closest thing that Grammys have to a controversial choice this year, with them being un-American and whatnot. I'm pulling for Justin, who actually did put out one of the best albums of the year; plus, if his 2004 Arturo Sandoval collabo is any indication, this year's performance is going to be bananas.

SONG OF THE YEAR
"Be Without You" - Mary J. Blige
"Jesus, Take the Wheel" - Carrie Underwood
"Not Ready to Make Nice" - Dixie Chicks
"Put Your Records on" - Corinne Bailey Rae
"You're Beautiful" - James Blunt

Every year before they're handed out, the academy has to remind us of the difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year, but it doesn't help their efforts if the nominees for the two awards are virtually identical. That difference, of course, is that Record of the Year goes to the performer for the final package of a song, and Song of the Year goes to the songwriter. And yes, according to The Recording Academy, the chorus, "You're beautiful, it's true/I saw your face in a crowded place/And I don't know what to do" put all other songwriting to shame this year. Seriously, that's a better written song than "When You Were Young" or something by Cam'ron. Doubtful. The hilarious thing is that three writers had to put their heads together for that gem. On another note, that Carrie Underwood song is kind of sweet, but I always thought the title's use of direct address lent itself to more drunk driving jokes than a "Family Guy" episode. I really don't give a shit who wins this.

BEST NEW ARTIST
James Blunt
Chris Brown
Imogen Heap
Corinne Bailey Rae
Carrie Underwood

This is one of the most ridiculed categories because few of the nominees should qualify as a "new artist." Imogen Heap, who is a complete surprise here, is an example of the Grammys getting something right but still being completely boneheaded. See, she did in fact record on of the most glorious singles of 2005, "Hide and Seek," (yes, 2005. I'll get to that.) but she's been recording since at least 1998. The Grammys' M.O. at all times is to keep from embarrassing themselves, so they have to make sure their Best New Artist is someone you'll hear from again. (Which is why they staked their claim with Jimmy Blunt?) With this in mind, an Underwood win is almost certain since she has the best long-term career prospects. Milli Vanilli was a lesson.

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
Back to Basics - Christina Aguilera
Back to Bedlam - James Blunt
The River in Reverse - Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint
Continuum - John Mayer
FutureSex/LoveSounds - Justin Timberlake

I'm fresh out of James Blunt jokes. I haven't heard anything about that Costello/Toussaint record, but I like a lot of Costello's work, and I'm from New Orleans so I have some kind of obligation to like Allen Toussaint (who, now that I'm reminded of it, was cool enough to be at the Sufjan Stevens concert here last month). With a lineup like this the oldest act usually wins, so that will probably be the case here. Once again, I'm pulling for Justin's Prince aping.


Why, yes, that is Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova. Fuck that dude.

BEST ROCK SONG
"Chasing Cars" - Snow Patrol
"Dani California" - Red Hot Chili Peppers
"Lookin' for a Leader" - Neil Young
"Someday Baby" - Bob Dylan
"When You Were Young" - The Killers

When listening to "Dani California," I get these visions of me taking my kids to see RHCP twenty years from now and saying, "They sound just as good as they did when I was your age." Just because I know it's going to happen now doesn't mean I can prevent it from happening then--it's like Skynet or something. Let's see. What else? That Neil Young album is ambiguous dogshit, but he's a rock luminary-type so he has to get nominated here. Bob Dylan has a good shot at this, and I can't complain because Modern Times really is great. Finally, that Killers song is my jam. But let me explain how this will go down, because it's one of Grammys' dirtiest tricks:

People aren't nominated based on a calendar year. The nomination period stretches from November of the year before to October of the show's year. So technically, the lead single from an album can often count for one year, while the album itself counts for the next. The Killers will pick up a few statues for "When You Were Young," and they'll be able to stay in the limelight when Sam's Town is nominated next year--same with the new John Legend. This is the reason why U2 seems to be up for stuff every year, and the rule can also be a way for these fuddy-duddys to judge cred. The year Timberlake's Justified actually came out, it got one measly nomination for rap/singing collaboration. The next year, after critics pointed out that he's actually talented, the academy gave him a bunch of nominations for Justified and its attendant singles. I hate this. Some of these contenders were on the radio over a year ago.


"I'm tryna find a Christmas present for my grandson. And he likes the Dragonball something or other. Now, do all those tapes play on the same thing? Huh? I don't know. I guess I have to call him and see if he has the F-Box or the PlayStay. 'Cuz there's no sense in buying him the tapes for the Box one if he can't play Dragonball on it. Also, do you have a--you're gonna laugh at me--but do you have the Chipmunks Christmas CD? I just think that is a hoot. Hello, Donnie? I'm lookin' for that Dragonball..."

BEST ROCK ALBUM
Try! - John Mayer Trio
Highway Companion - Tom Petty
Broken Boy Soldiers - The Raconteurs
Stadium Arcadium - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Living with War - Neil Young

Look at the academy mixing it up. Instead of nominating Continuum again, they go with the John Mayer Trio album, which--you guessed it--is a blues album. Nicely done. Highway Companion, besides being a completely forgettable album, just sounds like it should be here by its title. Instead of listening to everything, the committees probably looked at a list and said, "Hey, that looks like something made by an aging rocker. Check again to see if Stevie Wonder released anything, and if not we're going with...what is it...Highway Companion."

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not - Arctic Monkeys
At War with the Mystics - Flaming Lips
St. Elsewhere - Gnarls Barkley
Show Your Bones - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The Eraser - Thom Yorke

"Alternative music" hasn't meant anything since 1994, but this is the closest thing they have to the rock music I listen to. The Arctic Monkeys are over-rated and have no staying power, no one liked that Flaming Lips album (nice homework, academy--that's what all the cool forty-year-olds are bumping), and the other three albums were damned good. The Thom Yorke one was on another level though, and I would want him to win--if only the songwriting awards actually made sense.

BEST URBAN/ALTERNATIVE PERFORMANCE
"Crazy" - Gnarls Barkley
"That Heat" - Sergio Mendes featuring Erykah Badu & will.i.am
"Mas Que Nada" - Sergio Mendes featuring The Black Eyed Peas
"Idlewild Blue (Don't Chu Worry about Me)" - Outkast
"3121" - Prince

This actually isn't an important award, but I like that a category this blatantly racist exists. Basically, it's Best Performance by a Black Person That Doesn't Sound All That Black. That's the power of the urban label.

BEST R&B ALBUM
The Breakthrough - Mary J. Blige
Unpredictable - Jamie Foxx
Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship - India.Arie
3121 - Prince
Coming Home - Lionel Richie

BEST CONTEMPORARY R&B ALBUM
B'Day - Beyonce
Chris Brown - Chris Brown
20 Y.O. - Janet Jackson
Kelis Was Here - Kelis
In My Own Words - Ne-Yo

This is another head-scratcher. Why are the first five not contemporary? Were they not made within the same time frame as the other five, thus forcing them into some kind of R&B antiquity? I guess it's basically that there's rapping on the latter five, but that Jamie Foxx CD has more rapping than either Beyonce's or Ne-Yo's. Can we just call it the White R&B Album and the Black R&B Album? And one last thing: can we stop pretending that Janet's album was a success in any way and that anyone cares?


Grammy ain't got no love for Willie Beamon?

BEST RAP SOLO PERFORMANCE
"Touch It" - Busta Rhymes
"We Run This" - Missy Elliott
"Kick, Push" - Lupe Fiasco
"Undeniable" - Mos Def
"What You Know" - T.I.

Okay, [rubbing hands together like Paul Wall] the good stuff. I'm a Mos Def fan, and I have no idea what that song is. Was it on a soundtrack or something? Not a good start. Missy gets nominated every year because she's a woman and she's supposedly creative or something, even though she is a less than proficient rapper. "Touch It" was only big on the east coast, and Lupe isn't well-known enough in the mainstream. T.I. will win easily, and he deserves it. "What You Know" was an infectious monster, and the kids would say that Tip "bodied" it.

BEST RAP PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP
"Ridin" - Chamillionaire feat. Krayzie Bone
"Georgia" - Ludacris & Field Mob feat. Jamie Foxx
"Grillz" - Nelly feat. Paul Wall, Ali & Gipp
"Mighty 'O'" - Outkast
"Don't Feel Right" - The Roots

I love Game Theory, but the single may have been the weakest song overall. Although the academy might be tempted by Outkast's artistic cred, I think "Ridin'" was a big enough hit this year that they can't ignore it. Personally, I think I'd take "Grillz," since Wall's verse is one of the most flawless guest spots of the year. Still, it seems as if that and "Georgia" came out forever ago. I can't wait for Jay to be nominated for everything next year, a whole thirteen months after anyone has given a shit.

BEST RAP SONG
"It's Goin' Down" - Yung Joc
"Kick, Push" - Lupe Fiasco
"Money Maker" - Ludacris feat. Pharrell
"Ridin'" - Chamillionaire feat. Krayzie Bone
"What You Know" - T.I.

Yung. Joc. Nominated for the most prestigious award in the entire land. I know you see it. Whatever. I'm tired. I want T.I. to win everything.

BEST RAP ALBUM
Food & Liquor - Lupe Fiasco
Release Therapy - Ludacris
In My Mind - Pharrell
Game Theory - The Roots
King - T.I.

"Are you sure Kanye didn't put anything out this year? We can't nominate him for anything? Hey, who's that guy who is kind of like him? He produces or whatever but then put out an album of him rapping? Yeah, let's nominate him." Great, now I get to hear Pharrell brag about how his album was one of the best of this year. Where's Lil' Wayne in all of this bank robbery?


bourgeois- (adj.)

BEST COMEDY ALBUM
Blue Collar Comedy Tour- One for the Road - Bill Engvall, Ron White, Jeff Foxworthy, & Larry the Cable Guy
The Carnegie Hall Performance - Lewis Black
Life Is Worth Losing - George Carlin
Straight Outta Lynwood - Weird Al Yankovic
You Can't Fix Stupid - Ron White

Three years from now, someone from the academy will hear of Dane Cook.

BEST NORTENO ALBUM
Algo De Mi - Conjunto Primavera
Puro Pa' Arriba - Los Huracanes Del Norte
Historias Que Contar - Los Tigres Del Norte
Piensame Un Momento - Pesado
Prefiero La Soledad - Retono

Speaking of bank robberies, as far as norteno music goes, Conjunto Primavera has totally fallen off in the past few years. I can't believe they were nominated over...those other norteno dudes. I forget their name.

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