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GRAMMY NERDS DISH IT ALL FOR YOU

 

Your favorite Grammy nerds are back with one of their periodic meetings of the minds. They'll be having these nerd sessions until the envelopes are opened on 2/10—and no doubt beyond.

Paul: What do you think of the decision to expand the number of nominees in the Big Four categories from five to eight?

Lenny: It depends on how they're going to use it. The Motion Picture Academy expanded their Best Picture category from five to as many as 10 nominees. Everyone thought the idea was to get more mass-appeal, blockbuster movies in, but that didn't happen. All they did was nominate more indie movies, though they may have been a little broader about the indie movies they let in. So how are the Grammys going to use these extra nominations? I'll be very curious to see.

Paul: It's easy to say they'll use those three extra slots to expand the number of women, artists of color and hip-hop artists. But I think they've been doing that all along—especially the last few years.

Lenny: What I wonder is are they going to let people who have been deserving for years but haven't been nominated for Album of the Year to get nominated—people like John Prine, P!nk and even Kacey Musgraves. If they use their superpowers for good, it can be a good thing and a great reward for people's careers—as well as for just this year. Take somebody like P!nk. She's never been nominated for Best Album. She's been on the Grammy stage for many years. She's one of the biggest concert attractions in the world, but she's never had that nomination. Does she deserve that? Of course she does.

Paul: I think a problem she'll face is that this album, Beautiful Trauma, wasn't markedly bigger or better-received than her previous albums. She's consistent, album after album, but the Grammys tend to reward artists making big jumps in their careers—breakthroughs, debuts, comebacks.

Lenny: I don't like their agendas. I don't like their agenda that eliminates Ed Sheeran [last year; he wasn't nominated for Album, Record or Song]; that eliminates Justin Timberlake [five years ago; his album was passed over for an Album nom]; that overvalues Esperanza Spalding [eight years ago; she was a surprise winner of Best New Artist over Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons and Florence + the Machine].

Paul: With Ed, I think they were nervous that they would have a replay of the year before where Adele swept the Big Three awards.

Lenny: But why be nervous about that? If he deserves it, he deserves it. The word around the industry is that he came in #3 in the member voting and yet got kicked out by the committee. Doesn't that sound a little unfair to you?

Paul: Yes, but I think they are sensitive to getting beat up by critics and being called racist. That's a cheap shot, but the Grammys have been reluctant in the past 15 years to award hip-hop and contemporary R&B in the marquee categories. That aspect of Grammy history is hardly Ed's fault, but he suffered as a consequence. This coming year, "Perfect," Ed's duet with Beyoncé, will probably be up for Record of the Year, in large part because Beyoncé is on it.

Lenny: A make-up to Beyoncé (whose last two albums lost Album of the Year) and a make-up to Ed? That's ridiculous. Why are they doing make-ups when they should have just done it right in the first place?

Paul: Sometimes the problem is that the Nominations Review Committee puts too many hip-hop records in the finals and they wind up splitting the vote. Last year, I think there might have been enough rap-leaning votes for Kendrick Lamar to win Album of the Year, but not when they also nominated Jay-Z—and threw Childish Gambino in there too. If you split the hip-hop vote too many ways, it becomes impossible for any of them to win. That's how Bruno took it. It reminded me of 1984 when Born in the U.S.A. and Purple Rain split the vote of more progressive, rock-oriented members and allowed Lionel to win for Can't Slow Down.

"If the secret committees were helpful, if they were transparent, that would be a different conversation. But if the secret committees are setting the agenda, which is what's happening, I think that's wrong for everybody in the industry."—Lenny Beer

Lenny: Yeah, and what if Ed had been in there last year?

Paul: Maybe he would have won—or maybe he and Bruno would have split the mainstream/Top 40 vote down the middle and Kendrick would have taken it. I guess the point is: The composition of the field of nominees can have a big effect on who wins. Turning to this year…

Lenny: And not a moment too soon.

Paul:Drake and Ariana Grande are each likely to be nominated for Album, Record and Song.

Lenny: I think they both deserve it. Drake is obvious: He's the biggest artist in the business right now. Ariana has moved to a different level since the Manchester tragedy. Her importance as an artist has soared. I think this is her year to sweep the nominations. I think she's one of the great artists in the business and this is her time.

Paul: They've both been underappreciated. Drake has won just three Grammys out of 35 nominations. Ariana has never won, which is surprising.

Lenny: How many nominations does she have?

Paul: Just four—and never in one of the marquee categories.

Lenny: Well, that's going to change.

Paul: Do you agree that Camila Cabello and Cardi B are also Album of the Year locks?

Lenny: Not as much as the first two, but they definitely should be nominated.

Paul: The Black Panther soundtrack?

Lenny: I don't think it's anywhere near a lock, because soundtracks are always questionable. [In the last 25 years, just two soundtracks have been nominated for Album of the Year]. Does it deserve to be considered in the top eight? Absolutely.

Paul: Last year, they didn't have a country album nominated for Album of the Year. There's no law that they have to have a country album, but it's unlikely they would stiff country two years running. The top candidates are Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton. It's close between them, but two factors tilt Kacey's way: She's a woman, which never hurt, and she hasn't been nominated for Album of the Year yet. He was nominated three years ago for Traveller.

Lenny: I thought Kacey should have gotten a nomination for her last album. I don't know why they wouldn't give it to her for this one now.

Paul: And now the 800-pound gorilla in this category—Taylor Swift. Do you think she gets in?

Lenny: If I had to bet on it, I'd say yes, but it would be 60-40. She's one of the greatest artists in the world. She's won it twice already. Do they have to do it? No. Could they do it? Yes. Do they want her on the stage? 100%.

Paul: Janelle Monáe got a lot of buzz when her album came out. I'm inclined to think she might slip into the top eight. I think you're less sold on that.

Lenny: Correct. It's good, but I think there are other people more deserving.

Paul: The committee often likes to lift a lesser-known artist to the next level of recognition. They could do it with Janelle. They could do it with Leon Bridges.

Lenny: If it was me, I would do it with Leon Bridges. I think he's made more of an impact. I think his work is interesting. It's both throwback and progressive. If there's going to be a wild card that gets in, he'd be on my list.

Paul: John Prine?

Lenny: He's on my A list. He's not on my wild card list. I think he's one of the eight. You don’t think one of the greatest songwriters of our lifetime deserves at some point in his career to get a Best Album nom? I do.

Paul: I think they might be nervous about the prospect of him winning—for the photo in every newspaper in America to be of an older white guy clutching his Grammy—and the prospect of people saying, “The Grammys are so out of touch.”

Lenny: I'm not picking him to win.

Paul: If he's nominated, he might very well win.

Lenny: Anyone who's nominated might win.

Paul: That's true. But I think they think a step ahead. I think the committee says, “How would it look if this person won?” I think that's why Post Malone wasn't allowed to compete for Best New Artist.

Lenny (growing frustrated): Let me make this clear: I think committees are evil.

Paul: Lenny, tell me how you really feel!

Lenny: If the secret committees were helpful, if they were transparent, that would be a different conversation. But if the secret committees are setting the agenda, which is what's happening, I think that's wrong for everybody in the industry.

Paul: I think you were surprised by the number of fields that are now decided by committees. You knew about the Big Four categories and that there were a few fields that had them, but it's most fields now.

Lenny: And it's odd how they're chosen, too. Why does Alternative not have one, while Rock does? Who's making those choices?

"The transparency I'm talking about is mostly this: Who's on the committee? I know who's on the college football committee, and it's not like they're dealing with a small amount of money there."—Lenny

Paul: That is odd. Pop is not reconsidered (by a committee). I think they think if their voters know anything, it's pop.

Lenny: Let's talk about transparency, OK? If the college football playoff votes can be known by everyone, why can't the secret committee not be secret?

Paul: I think they'd be concerned that those people would be wined and dined and lobbied.

Lenny: So instead, these people are going to have their own agendas.

Paul: Would you like to go back to the era, before 1995, when it was based on straight voting by the members?

Lenny: Yes, I would. And I also like your idea of making the ballot a lot easier to deal with.

Paul: The HITS Top 50 chart is 50 titles deep. Multiply that by 20 and you still aren't at the depth of this year's list of entries for Record of the Year (1,025) or Song of the Year (1,011). If I asked you to pick your five favorite albums out of the current HITS Top 50, that's a do-able task. Now imagine that that list was 20 times longer. The job just got immeasurably harder. I don't think they've thought through what they're asking of people. I take it you would like them to either disband the committee or move it to the front end of the process to bring the entry list down to a reasonable size.

Lenny: I would also demand transparency.

Paul: So, if they kept the committees, you would like them to release the initial list of the voters' top 20 choices and say, “Here are the semi-finalists?”

Lenny: That would be great. The transparency I'm talking about is mostly this: Who's on the committee? I know who's on the college football committee, and it's not like they're dealing with a small amount of money there. Why can't I know the people on the secret committee? God forbid they'll be promoted to. Everybody promotes everything. I don't understand why it can't be transparent. After the college football committee picks the top four for the semifinals, they go on TV and they talk about it. They talk about the close calls and the teams that just missed and why they voted the way they voted. Yet with these people we can't even know who they are.

Paul: Transparency is a good thing.

Lenny: If they voted for Kacey over Chris, that's an interesting choice—an interesting conversation. Talk to me about it. Tell me what happened. Tell me why you picked this one over that one. Why can't we know? When Esperanza Spalding was nominated, I believe she was nominated because she had done Grammy in the Schools work and they took that into account. OK, tell me that. If they told me that, I wouldn't have a problem with that.

Paul: She also benefited because she was such an outlier. Anytime you stand out from the pack you have an advantage.

Lenny: Another interesting thing is the rejection of Post Malone in Best New Artist and what that really means. Is there going to be a make-up for Post in a major category, where “Rockstar” is very deserving, or do they just not like him?

Paul: I think he makes them nervous because they remember Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who beat Kendrick Lamar for Best New Artist—and in three other categories—five years ago. I think the idea of another white hip-hopper winning, especially beating African American hip-hoppers, would make them worry that they're going get beat up again. But it's a little different: There's a fair amount of critical support for Post Malone out there.

Lenny: You didn't think Alessia Cara stood a chance of being nominated for Best New Artist a year ago, because she’d had a big hit, "Here," previously. And she got in—and won. And then they flipped the script and barred Post on the grounds that the success of his debut album had given him too much prominence. In my opinion, both Alessia and Post Malone are deserving—and one was let in and one wasn't.

Paul: It's interesting that they accepted Troye Sivan, who is also a sophomore artist. His debut album, Blue Neighbourhood, was released a year before Post's disqualifying debut album, Stoney. Troye didn't have as big an impact as Post did with his debut, but they were both borderline cases. And one got in and the other didn't. It's difficult to have clear, consistent rules here because the business is always changing, and how artists break is always changing. Maybe the award should be called Best New or Developing Artist.

Lenny: Yes, that's what I think. As it is, it's whatever they want the rules to be.

Paul: There's something to that.

Lenny: The key word for this conversation is transparency.

 

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