February 6, 2011

The Grammys: Problems and Predictions

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Music awards are something of a mixed bag. While the public usually supports the legitimacy of the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, the Grammys are another story. Virtually since its inception, the Grammys have come under fire by artists and the public alike. On February 13, the 53rd annual Grammy awards will air and already there is controversy surrounding the awards, with good reason. Before denouncing the entire ceremony based on nominations alone, however, viewers should learn more about the voting process and body first.

The Grammy voting body is the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, or better known as the Recording Academy. The Academy is comprised of approximately 20,000 music industry professionals, but only those who are credited on at least six music tracks are voting members. Voters are only allowed to nominate nine fields in their expertise, and in the final vote, voters vote for the main categories and a limited number of subcategories.

On paper, this seems pretty legitimate. Only voters who are familiar with a certain type of category can nominate and vote for it. However, with the limited number of voting members and further limits on what categories they can vote for, most of the sub-categories have relatively small number of votes cast. Because of the small number of votes cast in many of the categories, a lobbying campaign for a particular recording may need only a few votes for success.

There are also visible correlations in nominations too coincidental to ignore. Although the Recording Academy may say otherwise, most nominations are given according to sales figures. Artists with top-selling albums of the year will be nominated for a Grammy. 2010’s top selling albums — from Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Justin Bieber, and Lady GaGa — are all nominated for one award or another. With Bieber on this list, it seems that technical singing skill is certainly not valued highly. On the other hand, Best Picture nominations are usually completely unrelated to sales — Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time, lost to The Hurt Locker just last year.

Furthermore, for the main awards that most people care about — Best Record, Best Song, Best Album and Best New Artist  — it is difficult to select a legitimate winner without picking one genre over another. This year, when you have Eminem and Arcade Fire nominated for best album, it’s quite difficult to compare two amazing albums from two polar opposite genres. However, for movies, genre isn’t much of a factor as much as real acting ability.

The differences between the Oscars and the Grammys do not end there. Interestingly enough, the Recording Academy does not receive nominated recordings. Oscar voters, however, are sent DVD screeners of every single movie. This is certainly fishy, as nearly all voters must have heard only a few songs or albums nominated. Suddenly, the Grammys definitely seem unfair and illegitimate.

These are exactly the reasons why artists have attacked the Grammys in the past. Eminem was famously quoted back in the day saying, “You think I give a damn about a Grammy?”  When Pearl Jam won a Grammy for best hard rock performance, singer Eddie Vedder said in his acceptance speech that, “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything.” Exactly. It’s an award, which is nothing. That’s why I don’t care if the Grammys are rigged or not. I watch it for the performances, so there’s no reason for me to be necessarily angry at the Grammys like some people get. Simply, it’s not a big deal. For artists, however, they have a right to be critical.

Clearly, the voting process is flawed compared to other award ceremonies. Although many care about the awards, I feel most people tune in to the Grammy’s actually to see the performances. However, even sometimes these performances can get people riled up. Taylor Swift was heavily after winning album of the year in 2010 the same night she performed a less-than-stellar a duet with Stevie Nicks. To me, Taylor has always been a weak singer live, albeit a good performer. The truth is that the Grammys do not award based on sheer voice, but a combination of pure success and ability as a performer. Taylor Swift, with her loyal fan base and album and concert sales to boot, is the perfect example of the criticism that the Grammys do not award based on singing ability.

Still, I find it fun to predict the winners, so I’ll make some predictions. Best New Artist is a category that’s virtually up in the air, since it concentrates on an entire catalogue instead of one album or song. The Academy loves underdogs in this category, as opposed to usual album sales. In recent years, they’ve also favored UK artists that crossover, like Amy Winehouse and Adele, who won in 2008 and 2009, respectively. I’m thinking that UK import Florence + The Machine, who actually deserve some recognition, will probably win. The Grammys are very unpredictable, although I am certain Justin Bieber will not win. If he does, the world will end.

Best Record and Best Song will be difficult to predict as always, since the categories are very similar. Best Record, which is the actual song you hear as it is produced and brought to life by its singer, will probably go to “Love the Way You Lie,” with its massive popularity and commercial sales. Since it is mainly a rap song, it is lacking melodic content, but the performance of Eminem and Rihanna will secure the win. Song of the Year, which considers just the actual melody and harmonies contained within the song and is awarded to the songwriters, will likely be “Need You Now” or “The House That Built Me.” The Academy loves country, and if Lady Antebellum doesn’t win Best Artist, they will probably be awarded here. Note that “Love The Way You Lie” is also nominated in this category; however, I find it unlikely it will win based on a repeated 30-second chorus.

Album of the Year, typically based on sales, will go to Eminem’s Recovery. The Academy has traditionally viewed the underdog favorably in this category. However, with the win of Fearless last year, it appears the Academy may be switching things up. Taylor had eight nominations last year, and now Eminem has 10 nominations. In this respect, Eminem appears to be the front-runner. If the academy stays with the underdog, Arcade Fire will win with their breathtaking The Suburbs. The rest of the albums nominated are all mainstream and top sellers, but probably won’t be able to eclipse Recovery.

Original Author: Matt Samet