Last night, just as The 57th Grammys were getting rolling on CBS, I was stepping off a plane at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, just in from the Disney/ABC #McFarlandUSAEvent in Los Angeles. Had I jockeyed my schedule around, I could’ve stayed in L.A. a bit longer to attend the ceremony at the Staples Center (a couple offers had been extended), but there was just no way for it to work out. My personal relationship with the annual award show is a rocky one – loving it as a celebration of music on one hand, while looking at it as an extravagant relic of years’ past on another – bestowing the coveted Gramophone trophy upon artists and releases that often are far from the “best,” and sometimes miss-the-mark to create curiosities of legendary proportions (hat tip to JETHRO TULL, here). For the public (and even many artists), the “how” of these nominations and awards is often muddied by a lack of understanding as to the process of culling the nominees… which I will explain as simply as possible.
Essentially, if you’ve got a commercially-released recording that arrived between October 1st of the previous year and September 30 of the current year, you can be nominated as long as your label (major or indie) has registered with the award department of The Recording Academy. Contrary to the belief of some folks I know, indie labels are not “unwelcome to compete,” but indeed, it is hard to score a win (more on that in a minute). The two principal areas of my personal expertise and interest are the rock/metal and children’s categories, and while they might seem like polar opposites, how they function is remarkably similar. As with all categories, those who feel Grammy-worthy (and are members of the Academy) can fill out the paperwork and throw their virtual hat into the ring. According to the Academy themselves, they’re now getting over 20,000 submissions for consideration each year. Yep, that many artists feel Grammy-worthy and fill out the paperwork. This means that hundreds, if not thousands of potential nominees for each category can be presented to Academy voters during the first round, the outcome of which determines the five official nominees for each category. While I am not a member of The Academy, nor do they make public their lists, I can tell you that the rock/metal and children’s categories were stacked this year, and if your favorite band or artist wasn’t nominated, it wasn’t for lack of trying, nor were they intentionally excluded. Problem is, no one has time to listen to all of the submissions, and that’s why the familiar is the norm when it comes to the nominees and winners. For example, this year’s “Best Metal Performance” included MOTORHEAD, SLIPKNOT, MASTODON, ANTHRAX and TENACIOUS D – the last two of which were both nominated for cover songs from the same album… a tribute to the late RONNIE JAMES DIO. Cover songs being nominated in metal happens all the time (and often win), and it’s the familiarity that drives it. METALLICA has taken the award six times since 1990, BLACK SABBATH twice (once for a live recording of their 1971 “Iron Man”), SLAYER two years-in-a-row (07/08), and the nominees and winners are always loaded with the familiar (KORN, SLIPKNOT, JUDAS PRIEST, MEGADETH, etc). So who takes the statue last night? TENACIOUS D. I love the D. But, they’re a comedy act… even though they do a “metal” shtick.
The children’s category is essentially the same deal, with the winners two years-in-a-row being the out-of-nowhere vote lobby leaders. I have been a judge for the annual Fids & Kamily Music Awards for the past three years, and neither Grammy winner in that category for the past two (JENNIFER GASOI last year, NEELA VASWANI) was even a blip on the radar for the 30-ish judges in the Fids & Kamily realm. How out-of-touch was this year’s winner? It wasn’t even a musical album – it was an audiobook published by Little, Brown and Company (part of the major Hachette Book Group). Shouldn’t have even been in the same category with THE POP UPS, BRADY RYMER, SECRET AGENT 23 SKIDOO and THE OKEE DOKEE BROTHERS. Instead, the spoken-word version of I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban swoops in and steals the trophy from the musicians who should’ve had it. Quite frankly, that’s horseshit. But would it have won in the category where it should’ve been (“Best Spoken Word Album”) – where Vaswani would’ve been up against performances by JOAN RIVERS, JAMES FRANCO, JOHN WATERS, ELIZABETH WARREN, GLORIA GAYNOR and JIMMY CARTER? Perhaps not. Lobbying scores wins.
Despite my own grumpiness about the whole affair, last night’s awards were not without some triumphs. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ FROZEN soundtrack picked up a pair of statues… JOHN WILLIAMS and “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC grabbed some gold… and Papa John’s Pizza aficionado IGGY AZALEA went home empty-handed (victory!).
I co-manage the American Metal band PRODUCT OF HATE, and with their debut album set for release this year on NAPALM Records, there’s a safe bet we’ll be throwing their might into the “Best Metal Performance” ring next year (and yes, I truly believe that they are GRAMMY-worthy). And, just to be on the safe side, we just may have followed the lead of METALLICA, MOTORHEAD, ANTHRAX, MINISTRY and WHITE ZOMBIE before us… and put a cover on the album. We also might not have.
— Old Crankypants