Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thoughts on the 2013 Grammy Nominations

Out of the five "major" awards shows (Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, Tonys, and since I'm being generous, Golden Globes), the Grammys may just be the kookiest. All awards shows follow Award Show Logic, which is different from regular logic and based in decisions that would only make sense in the context of awards shows. The Grammys in particular, though, are pretty nuts. They're desperate for attention, announcing their nominations via concert (as they did last Friday night), with those nominations generally encompassing things that sold well during their eligibility period (October 2012 - September 2013) but also being filled out with a hodgepodge of songs and albums in amorphous categories with vague rules (go look at the history of Best Alternative Music Album and be amazed). The Grammys are just more bonkers than the other major awards shows, like the maladjusted adult version of MTV's Video Music Awards, which does make the awards somewhat less meaningful, especially given the wide variety of music they're (ostensibly) culling from. But this also makes them a whole lot of fun in ways that other shows just aren't.

Rather than go through all 80+ categories, I'm just going to take a look at the general field: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. Overall, Jay Z leads the field with nine nominations (though he was shut out of the aforementioned four categories), while Kendrick Lamar, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have seven apiece. You can find a full list of nominations here.

See the general field after the break.

Record of the Year

"Get Lucky," Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams
"Radioactive," Imagine Dragons
"Royals," Lorde
"Locked Out of Heaven," Bruno Mars
"Blurred Lines," Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I.

The sounds of the late '70s revitalized and modernized reign supreme here, with Daft Punk's disco throwback, Robin Thicke's Marvin Gaye homage (or theft), and Bruno Mars' best impression of the Police are all present. All of these songs were major hits this year, so it's no surprise to see any of them here. What is surprising: Justin Timberlake is nowhere to be found, despite having enormous hits in "Suit & Tie" and "Mirrors."

Album of the Year

The Blessed Unrest, Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
good kid, m.a.a.d. city, Kendrick Lamar
The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red, Taylor Swift

This is where Awards Show Logic comes in. Daft Punk's album was a genuine critical and commercial hit, as was Lamar's, so their inclusion makes that kind of sense. The Heist, on the other hand, was an independent album that produced some huge hits, so it's in despite good-not-great critical reception and decent sales. Red was a monster hit, so regardless of reviews, it was destined to be beloved, and Swift is the Grammys' favorite artist right now. Then there's Bareilles, whom most people were probably surprised to learn actually released an album this year (for what it's worth, I rather enjoyed The Blessed Unrest). Her nomination shouldn't be that surprising, though, because the Grammys are notorious for picking albums by artists who are considered "safe" and have a broad enough appeal to everyone. Bareilles is this year's choice, and don't be surprised if she ends up winning, too.

Song of the Year

"Just Give Me a Reason," P!nk featuring Nate Ruess
"Locked out of Heaven," Bruno Mars
"Roar," Katy Perry
"Royals," Lorde
"Same Love," Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert

The difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year is that the latter is a songwriters' award, whereas the former is based on performance. And this year's nominations are mostly smart choices, especially "Just Give Me a Reason" (a great conversational structure) and "Royals." "Same Love" will be a popular choice because of it's "important" message (I use quotations because that's how it will be justified; of course I do consider the message hugely important and vital).

Best New Artist

James Blake
Kendrick Lamar
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Kacey Musgraves
Ed Sheeran

AKA the category that Twitter gets super angry about every year. Best New Artist is, year after year, the best example of the Grammys' uniquely gaga version of Awards Show Logic. Did you want to see Ariana Grande here? Or Florida Georgia Line? Maybe Imagine Dragons, or even Lorde? Too bad, you get a dub step crooner (Blake), a smart country songwriter (Musgraves), and Taylor Swift's favorite singer (Sheeran). Lorde is the most surprising exclusion here, but notable snubs are nothing new here. The rules for eligibility are also hazy: it recognizes artists who achieve popularity within their eligibility period, but not necessarily for their first major work, and they can be previous Grammy nominees as long as they didn't win. And that's what makes this category the perfect distillation of the joy of the Grammys: anything can happen, and none of it will make any sense.

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