Will the Grammys Remain as Bizarre as Always This Year?
By Spencer Kornhaber
Things may be different from usual at the music awards show Sunday. Below, our predictions.
"Music's Biggest Night," as the Grammys likes to bill itself, remains pop-culture's most baffling awards show. Set aside the eligibility period that puts nearly two-year-old works of art in the running, a secret committee that helps ensure that no-chance-of-winning entries get nominated, and a "Best New Artist" category that recognizes acts with multiple albums under their belts. The Grammys, even when accepted for their quirks, have an almost sociopathic penchant for surprises and snubs on awards night. And historically, its track record of rewarding enduringly significant albums and songs has been... not great.
There's hope this year, though, that the National Academy of Recording Artists may cause fewer instances of fling-shoe-at-TV injustice. In April, it announced it was condensing the number of awards categories from 111 to 78. In the process, it provoked Carlos Santana and Paul Simon to call it racist for eliminating awards for Latin Jazz, Hawaiian, and other ethnically based categories. But it has also led to a few sensibile combinations: Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and Best Rock Instrumental Performance are, for example, all one thing now. Maybe fewer categories will result in less entropy in the winner's list.
And the past few years have shown that maybe, just maybe, the Academy is actually shedding its famously out-of-touch sensibility. As Chris Molanphy argues at the Village Voice, "If the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is doing its job right, it should be rewarding popular, undeniable, and somewhat unhip records," and that's what the last two years of Record of the Year prizes have done. Ditto, sort of, in Album of the Year: Instead of head-scratching, unheard fogey pleasers like Herbie Hancock and Alison Krauss—both great artists who won on the strength of relatively minor releases—the FM-conquering Taylor Swift and the movie-trailer-conquering Arcade Fire walked away with trophies. You could take that as a sign that the Grammys may be starting to care a little more about the opinions of people younger than Quincy Jones.
Then again, this is likely all wishful thinking. I'd argue that music, more than TV or movies or Broadway, are the art form where tastes are the most fragmented, where people have the hardest time agreeing on what's good and what's trash. The fact that the Grammys are arbitrary and infuriating means it's reflecting reality. At the very least, there'll be a bevy of performances to keep us entertained—even if that entertainment comes laced with a bit of horror (i.e. when the Beach Boys perform with Maroon 5 on Sunday).
In December, when the nominations were announced, I drew up predictions in a few categories. They're probably not going to come true, but being wrong is part of the fun, right? Here they are, with a few adjustments after further contemplation: