Monday, February 11, 2008

It's Herbie Hancock. Duh!

Another spectacular, lavish, boisterous, and ultimately pointless Grammy ceremony has passed us by. For those who actually gave it half a notice, the entertainment news and blogosphere is a buzz with the biggest surprise of the night (aside from the relatively healthy looking appearance of Amy Winehouse), the Album of the Year going to Herbie Hancock's "River: The Joni Letters." In the face of more popular, younger, more critically acclaimed acts, this inexplicable album, that I can't imagine is owned by anyone but turtlenecked Herbie Hancock fans and Starbucks Cafes, comes through with the shocking upset of the century. However, as I look back at the best album winners for this decade, I see that it would have been an unbelievable upset if any other album won!

No other major entertainment industry award has had such a great disconnect from what the viewers expect and what the industry voters choose. The Oscars have let in some real dogs and have dolled out undeserving pity Oscars here and there; the Emmy's have given awards to shows that don't even exist at the time of the presentation; even, the Kid's Choice award has shown some questionable decisions at times. The Grammys, however, have shown such unpredictable and inconsistent results, that such behavior by them has become well...consistent.

Whether it's awarding Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance to Jethro Tull over Metallica, giving Sir Mix-a-Lot a best rap song Grammy, almost always getting it wrong with the Best New Artists, or FIVE Grammys in one night for Christopher Cross; the Grammy's brazen dissent from popular opinion of music buyers almost borders on antagonism. Some of the most egregious of these examples can be seen throughout the history of their most prestigious award, The Best Album Grammy. Looking at the track record for the past decade it seems pretty apparent just how beautiful a textbook example "River" is of the qualities that make up a "surprise" Best Album Winner. [Note none of these applies to the unexplainable fluke year of 2004 when Outkast won]

Be the oldest artist nominated (extra points if you're dead)
This is a pretty important quality. You're already doing pretty well if you're the oldest; if you've died it's basically in the bag. Every year's list of nominations has at least one new release by an established artist that is well past their prime (Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, etc.) who is always within striking distance of pulling away. I'm not sure who exactly votes for these things but whoever they are, I suspect they're graying, rockist, and have a whole closet full of confiscated Frisbees. Every few years they seem to look forward to striking a blow for the old guard by sticking it those young whipper snappers and their scary music ("so you're all excited about Kid A? How about this Steely Dan album!").

Have a whole bunch of other artists collaborating
If there's one thing the Grammys love more than old, established artists, it's a whole bunch of old established artists collaborating together, possibly singing old songs. "River" had a who's who of Grammy friendly duets: Tina Turner, Norah Jones, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Corinne Bailey Rae; a stellar line up. "Supernatural" and the "O Brother Where Art Thou" Soundtrack are duet heavy, but the critically acclaimed clusterfuck that was Ray Charles' "Genius Love Company" really sets the bar for all future albums.

Have Norah Jones sing on your album
Has there been any artists in recent memory more perfect for the Grammys than Norah Jones? Whatever sensual, contemplative, contemporary soul, fusion, country, folk, thing she plays that fits so well in coffee houses and bookstores is the kind of classy music that the voters can't get enough. So aside from winning her own Best Album Grammy she provided her unique brand of Grammy gold to both "Genius Love Company" and "River". She's like a hired gunslinger, have Grammy will travel.

Be outsold by the other nominees
You know for an award given out by the record industry, album sales has on most occasions, little to do with the winner. I'm not saying it's a sales contest but, shouldn't the ability to sell, some albums, get your single on the charts, count of for something? "River" was by far and away the least commercial of the albums nominated, as were most of the other classic winners (with the distinct exception of Supernatural). To the Grammy voters it seems the more popular you are, the more you're probably associated with the unseemly elements of the "younger generation".

Be nominated against Kanye West
It just seems that the Grammy voters have some sort of personal vendetta against Kanye. Every album he has released thus far had been the inside favorite to win and have fallen to less than spectacular albums by older artists; "Genius Loves Company" (again!) and U2's forgettable "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb". This year was probably his best chance too, but alas he was no match Herbie. I feel like the voter's will continue to play this sadistic cat and mouse game if only to see how he'll react every time. You better believe there'll be another titanic upset when "Post Graduation" gets nominated.

That's basically the rough layout of the formula, at least for this decade. So take heed all you faded legends of yesteryear; relevance is just an obscure, Norah Jones duet laden, collaborative cover of old standards away. For extra insurance have it coincide with a Kanye album or fake your death.

1 comment:

  1. The KCA are the most crooked trophy out there. Nuff said.