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I.B. BAD: GRAMMYS,
RIGHT & WRONG

The table has been perfectly set for the Grammy inner circle, with bona fide superstars Adele, Beyoncé and Drake all on board, offering them the opportunity to get it right next February—something for which they’ve been widely criticized in the recent past. Whether Neil Portnow, Ken Ehrlich, Jack Sussman, CBS—which has the final word—and the members of the secret committee that narrows the field manage to seize this opportunity depends on the decisions that will be made in the coming weeks leading to the announcement of the nominees in early December. In order to create an appealing show, the Grammy decision-makers must avoid the pitfalls that have tripped them up in previous years. Will they find a way to make peace with Justin Timberlake, whose 20/20 Experience was puzzlingly denied the Album of the Year nomination most believed he richly deserved in 2014, and who was completely shut out of the major categories? That faux pas naturally angered Timberlake, and he has yet to make peace with the principals, denying the Grammys of the services of a consummate entertainer and another huge draw for three consecutive years; will Timberlake’s holdout extend to a fourth year, despite the fact that his “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” is one of 2016’s top singles?

Additionally, will they treat Justin Bieber with the respect he’s earned, or will they turn up their noses to the onetime teen idol, who has grown into an artist of stature and enormous appeal—in effect mirroring their screw-up with the other Justin? Some believe there may be an issue between the two camps deriving from Bieber’s performance on the 2016 Grammys. In any case, Bieber doesn’t need the Grammys—he couldn’t be hotter, with an enormously successful world tour and hit after hit.

Then there are the two most traditionally controversial categories, Best New Artist and Album of the Year. The Grammys has a spotty history in awarding the Best New Artist gramophone, consistently missing on emerging artists who would go on to have impressive careers in favor of one-hit wonders soon to be forgotten—A Taste of Honey, anyone?—and off-the-radar newcomers like Esperanza Spalding. As for Album of the Year, it isn’t just the infamous head-scratchers of the past, like Christopher Cross, who have tarnished the status of what has long been considered the biggest of the Big Four Awards; there’s been a tendency in recent years to favor the arty—including Beck’s Morning Phase, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters—over the monumental. This recent trend has undercut the importance of Album of the Year, while boosting the importance of Record and Song of the Year, which is perhaps not a bad thing during an era in which the single is king and streaming is becoming the primary form of consuming music.

Executive producer Ehrlich wasn’t entirely at fault for a pacing issue during the final hour of the 2016 telecast, in that he had to deal with Rihanna’s eleventh-hour cancellation and Lauryn Hill’s last-minute no-show. Indeed, Ehrlich has shown his real-time nimbleness time and again as he’s dealt with such potential calamities and worse, like the death of Whitney Houston on Grammy eve 2012. He’s the long-reigning king of high-quality live TV. Ehrlich has at least three aces in his hand for the upcoming show; how will he play his cards, starting with the opening? It’s worth noting that Adele has yet to perform Record/Song favorite “Hello” on any TV show other than her primetime NBC special last November.

Rob Stringer, Sony’s newly named CEO, has a balancing act in front of him, but it’s an enviable problem: How does Columbia deal with its abundance of riches, with Adele and Beyoncé universally considered the favorites to win Album of the Year, and what would constitute the best possible outcome? Capitol’s Steve Barnett (Stringer’s former Columbia colleague) may not have gotten exactly what he’d envisioned in 2014, when newcomer Sam Smith was up for all four of the big awards, but he wound up with the perfect split, as Smith took three of the four while labelmate Beck was the surprise winner in the Album category.

It isn’t known whether the enigmatic Frank Ocean cares that Blonde is out of the running for any potential nominations because the album wasn’t formally submitted for consideration by the cutoff date, but if he does, the blame rests not with his former label—it’s on Ocean himself. Cash Money missed the submission deadline for Drake’s “Hotline Bling” in 2015.

Apart from all of the above, an overarching Grammy mystery remains: We know that the guys in the room, as we’ve come to describe the members of the secret committee, control the nominations in the major categories; what few know and no one has acknowledged is whether they control the winners.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Scooter Braun, Jonathan Dickins, Jay Z, Rick Yorn and Wassim Sal Slaiby.

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