Lenny Beer, Hits’ Editor in Chief, and Paul Grein, aka the Grammy Whisperer, have debated what was likely to happen throughout this Grammy season. They predicted who was likely to be nominated in the top four categories and then who was likely to win in 25 key categories. On the morning after the telecast, fortified by coffee, they discussed the plusses and minuses of the show—and the awards.
Paul: Why do you think Adele beat Beyoncé for Album of the Year?
Lenny: I don’t want to go there yet. I want to talk about the show. It felt like a variety show, not an awards show. They didn’t even announce the early [pre-telecast] winners.
Paul: They haven’t done that for many years.
Lenny: I don’t like that. David Bowie won four Grammys, but there was no moment on the screen [saying] that he won those awards. I don’t even know if Barbra won or didn’t win.
Paul: She did not win.
Lenny: I don’t know who won. They’re not telling me a story about the music anymore.
Paul: It’s purely a TV show.
Lenny: It used to be a TV show that told a story—the story of the year in music, the story of the awards. Now it’s completely a variety show. On the Academy Awards, they do like a minute on each of the Best Picture nominees. We don’t get that here. They didn’t tell the story of how Drake had the biggest streaming album ever with Views—that’s history-making. And what did it mean that Justin Bieber was nominated for Album of the Year? All we saw was a five-second video clip.
Paul: Less than that. I bet the clips were more like two or three seconds. You make a good point. A viewer would have no sense that Bieber came into his own [as a mainstream pop artist] last year.
Lenny: That bothered me more than anything else—that there was no story.
Paul: They could at least tell you who won multiple awards in the pre-tel. At the top of the show, James Corden could say ‘We’ve already given out 75 awards today, and so far, the big winners are…’
Lenny: Or they could have a screen roll at the bottom of the screen.
Paul: Ken [Ehrlich] is in control. What he wants for the television show carries the day. But they need to have a counterweight, saying ‘This may not be the best TV, but it’s important.’ That doesn’t exist anymore.
Lenny: I also thought there was too much unfamiliar music.
Paul: And if you think that way, imagine the average TV viewer. There are millions of people who tune into the show once a year as a way of keeping up with popular music.
Lenny: I don’t think we had our best music on display.
Paul: Who was missing?
Lenny: Drake, Rihanna, Kanye, Justin Bieber, Sia, twenty 0ne pilots. The Chainsmokers had the biggest record of the year [‘Closer’] and it didn’t get on.
Paul: I think that’s a good example of being too hip for the audience.
Lenny: We also didn’t get to hear Maren Morris sing ‘My Church.’ Instead, we saw her do something with Alicia Keys.
Paul: I think they’re overly sensitive to the idea of having someone on the show who might have performed something one or two other places. They forget that relatively few in the audience are watching every show like they are.
Lenny: They put those two great singers [Cynthia Erivo and John Legend] out there and had them sing half a song [the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’], then they did the In Memoriam spot, then had them sing more of the song. It was weird. We didn’t really get a feeling for how great Cynthia is. It came off awkward to me.
Paul: It was odd to divide the song in two. They were trying to do something different.
Lenny: And screwing up the sound? It’s like the ultimate ‘bad’ in theater. You’ve got to get the sound right. Two years in a row with Adele? [Metallica lead singer James] Hetfield’s mic wasn’t on?
Paul: I think they would say it’s the most complex live telecast of the year. It has 20 performances. The Oscars have maybe six.
Lenny: It’s unforgivable with the sound. I will say this, though. The production values on the show were great. Even though the sound was terrible, the show looked great and looked expensive. The Katy Perry number came off much better than I expected it to. It was an unfamiliar song, but it looked great.
Paul: This was the second year in a row that they wouldn’t let the co-writer of Song of the Year speak. Last year, it was Amy Wadge [the co-writer of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’]. This year, it was Greg Kurstin [the co-writer of Adele’s ‘Hello’]. It seems so rude. They over-pack the show and then they have to shave 20 seconds whenever they can. Maybe the answer is: Don’t over-pack the show.
Lenny: They only have three big awards and they rush through them.
Lenny: As for the awards, your initial instinct [that Adele would sweep the ‘Big Three’ awards] was right, but they blew it.
Paul: OK, now we’re ready. Why did Adele beat Beyoncé for Album of the Year? May I start?
Paul: The votes were due at the accounting firm on Jan. 13, a week before Trump was inaugurated. His presidency has stirred weeks of protest that would have worked in Beyoncé’s favor. But my main concern here isn’t about who won or lost this year. It’s the principle of the thing. Grammy ballots were due nearly a month before the winners were announced [on Feb. 12]. We live in an information age where people expect current information, not information that is a month old. Oscar ballots are due at their accounting firm five days before the show. So it can be done. The Grammys make excuses about how it takes time. Instead, they should just make it happen.
Lenny: I like that.
Paul: They’re presenting old information as if it’s fresh information.
Lenny: I like it. Go for it.
Paul: No contemporary R&B or hip-hop album has won Album of the Year since OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below 13 years ago. Last November, Frank Ocean told The New York Times: “That institution…just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.” Did he have a point?
Paul: Is there something they can do about it?
Lenny: I don’t know what the voting membership looks like.
Paul: It does seem that year after year, voters are presented with contemporary R&B and hip-hop albums and they bypass them and go with what they always go with. I like Adele. I respect her and I hate the fact that she is being dragged into this racial question and Grammy credibility question. It feels unfair to me. If there’s a backlash in the press to her winning…
Lenny: It shouldn’t be against her. Her warm charm and graciousness was one of the best things about the show.
Paul: David Bowie won four Grammys—every category in which his name appeared. If the Nominations Review Committee had put Blackstar in the finals for Album of the Year, could it have won?
Lenny: It might have.
Paul: The anomaly of Bowie winning everything this year is that he won only one Grammy in his lifetime—in a lesser category, Best Music Video. How do you explain that?
Lenny: More than an anomaly, it’s an ‘oops.’ It’s a ‘We fucked up.’
Paul: It’s a different membership now saying the voters missed the boat in the early ‘70s.
Lenny: Correct. When he was making the best records in the world.
Paul: How do you explain voters being conservative on Album of the Year, but being bold and progressive on Best New Artist, choosing Chance the Rapper over both The Chainsmokers [who I thought would win] and Maren Morris [who you thought would win]? It seems inconsistent to me. When Chance won for Best New Artist, I thought that was a good sign for Beyoncé’s chances of winning Album.
Lenny: The feeling in the room where I [watched the Grammys] was that it was cool to vote for Chance.
Paul: Well, it would have been cool to vote for Lemonade. So why are they cool sometimes and traditional other times?
Lenny: Who knows?
Paul: I’m sure some of these races are very close. A few votes going the other way, and you’d have a different outcome. You can win in a close race with 20-something percent of the vote.
Paul: This was the first time in Grammy history that two country artists [Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini] received Best New Artist noms the same year. Did that hurt Maren’s chances of winning?
Lenny: I would think so, yeah. They’re both Nashville establishment acts.
Paul: I wonder why they did that. It seems so obvious that by having both you’re reducing the chance of either one winning. So Maren might have beaten Chance—or at least it would have been a closer race?
Paul: Barbra Streisand hasn’t won a Grammy in 30 years. She lost again this year. Why do you think that is?
Lenny: Maybe they don’t care about her anymore. Maybe [we do] because we’re old.
Paul: But she lost this year to Willie Nelson, who’s older than she is. She usually loses to Tony Bennett, who’s older than both of them. I think it’s because she’s so famous and successful, they figure she doesn’t need the boost as much as other artists do.
Lenny: I would have put her on the stage.
Paul: I assume she would have come in person if her category had been on the air. Now she’s probably glad it wasn’t on the air.
Lenny: That’s probably true.
Paul: ‘Hotline Bling’ won both awards for which it was nominated [Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Performance]. It could have been entered last year and wasn’t due to a record company slip-up. Because it wasn’t entered last year, it was eligible again this year. Drake’s camp entered ‘One Dance’ instead for Record and Song of the Year. If they had entered ‘Hotline Bling’ in those two categories, could it have beaten ‘Hello’?
Lenny: Not this year. I don’t think it would have beaten ‘Hello.’ That was too powerful. I think it would have won last year. ‘Hotline Bling’ was my favorite Top 40 record last year—my favorite pop confection. So I’m glad it got some recognition this year.
Paul: Justin Bieber and Keith Urban were the only male artists nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Country Solo Performance, respectively. So by definition they would have won if the Grammys still had separate male and female categories in pop and country. I think they should have separate categories. They have consolidated so much that they are sending deserving winners home empty-handed. There are dozens of categories that few care about outside of people who work in those fields. Here are two categories that everyone would care about if they still existed.
Lenny: And they were both deserving to win Grammys. But micro-things don’t bother me like they bother you.
Paul: I congratulate you on Pentatonix’s win.
Lenny: They’re three for three, by the way.
Paul: I also congratulate you on picking The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years to win Best Music Film over Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Do you think it won on the quality of the film or their name power?
Lenny: Clearly, both. But the film is amazing. It makes you really feel how scary it was during what they went through. You understand why they stopped touring. Their lives were in danger.
Paul: Also, I think some names are just too powerful to overcome in Grammy competition. Miles Davis and The Beatles are at the top of the list. Miles Ahead won Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media, beating Suicide Squad. Memo to self: No one can ever beat The Beatles.
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