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THE GRAMMY WHISPERER: EIGHT IS (MORE THAN) ENOUGH

As you probably read Tuesday, the Grammys are expanding the number of nominees in their "Big Four" categories from five to eight. This follows the lead of the Oscars, which in 2009 expanded the number of nominees for Best Picture from five to as many as 10.

There are a couple of important differences between the two award shows that haven't really been discussed in the initial press reports on this major change.

First, the Grammys have dozens of "genre album" awards—Best Rock Album, Best Rap Album, Best Country Album and so on. If an album is passed over for the overall Album of the Year award, it has a second shot at Grammy glory in its home genre. The Oscars don't have dozens of "genre film" awards—Best Comedy Picture, Best Dramatic Picture, Best Action Picture and so on. While they do have three highly specialized awards for certain feature-length films—Best Animated Feature Film, Best Documentary (Feature) and Best Foreign Language Film—for the most part, it's Best Picture or nothing. As a result, they had a greater need for the expansion of the number of Best Picture nominees.

Another difference is that the Oscars have just one category where they have up to 10 nominees. The Grammys are going to have four categories with eight nominees. That's 32 slots in the Big Four categories. That's a lot of slots.

The beauty of having just five nominees is that that's just about the maximum number of things that the most of us can keep in our head before we start forgetting. Eight is a lot. Eight is a list.

Because of ties, there have been some cases in Grammy history where there were more than five nominees. Once, there were eight nominees in a "Big Four" category—Song of the Year for 1979. These were the nominees: "After the Love Has Gone" by David Foster, Jay Graydon and Bill Champlin, "Chuck E.'s in Love" by Rickie Lee Jones, "Honesty" by Billy Joel, "I Will Survive" by Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren, "Minute By Minute" by Lester Abrams and Michael McDonald, "Reunited" by Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren, "She Believes in Me" by Steve Gibb and "What a Fool Believes" by Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.


OK, without looking back at that paragraph, how many of the nominees can you recall? Unless you have an eidetic memory, you probably can't remember them all. (Because you knew there was going to be a glut of titles, you probably didn't even try.) There's a reason there have been five nominees for awards since the first caveman presented the first award for Best Fire.   

Another thing: I'm concerned that having eight nominees will devalue a nomination for, say, Album of the Year. It's not nearly as exclusive a club anymore. Artists who used to come close are now in. It's like taking everybody who earned a B+ and giving them an A. Well, that's a lucky break for them, but how about the students who really earned an A?

Here's how the process will work. In the first round of voting, all voting members will select five choices in each category. The Nominations Review Committee—that mysterious group of Grammy insiders—will then take the voters' top 20 selections and narrow it down to eight. (The committee's main purpose is to remove anything they think wouldn't reflect well on the Recording Academy—this year's "Afternoon Delight" or "Achy Breaky Heart.")  In the final round, voting members will pick their favorite from the eight that are left standing.

There's a reason there have been five nominees for awards since the first caveman presented the first award for Best Fire.

It will be interesting to see if having more choices on the final ballot will affect the voting. This past year, Bruno Mars swept the "Big Three" awards. The year before that, Adele did. I don't see how having more options will change the essential character of Grammy voting, which leans to proven favorites at the expense of more progressive artists. If the committee uses those three extra slots to advance various progressive choices, it's even possible they'll split the vote, paving the way for another mass-appeal favorite to win.

In announcing the change, Neil Portnow, the academy's president/CEO, said: "This creates more opportunities for a wider range of recognition in these important categories and gives more flexibility to our voters when having to make the often challenging decisions about representing excellence and the best in music for the year."

The academy also points to the large number of entries in these four categories as justification for upping the number of final nominees from five to eight. Indeed, those categories are jam-packed. This past year, there were 1,131 entries for Record of the Year, 897 for Album of the Year, 1,069 for Song of the Year and 374 for Best New Artist.

 

 

 

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