Charting The Grammy Nominees
The Trouble With This Year’s Hot 100-Resembling Grammy Nominee List
On Wednesday, Billboard magazine will reveal its year-end charts. On the Hot 100, which ranks the top songs, expect to see “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea, “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith, “All About The Bass” by Meghan Trainor and “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift in or just outside the Top 10 for 2014. If that list of tracks seems familiar, it’s because they’re each nominated for either Record or Song of the Year at the upcoming Grammy Awards.
Watch Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” below:
The Grammys, unlike the UK’s Mercury Music Prize and to an extent the Oscars, have always been seen as a popularity contest. Often, the best-selling tunes of the year end up influencing the songs, albums and artists that are nominated in the big four categories – Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist. Last year, for instance, the nominations for Record of the Year were straight off the Billboard year-end top 15: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams (No.2), “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons (No.3), “Locked Out Of Heaven” by Bruno Mars (No.11), “Royals” by Lorde (No.15), and eventual winner “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams (No.14).
The problem with this of course is that we already have the charts as a measure of commercial success. The Grammys claim to “honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to sales or chart position” but the past few years have shown us that the likelihood of a repeat of 2011, when an under-the-mainstream-radar artist like Esperanza Spalding caused an upset and took home the Best New Artist trophy, seems less and less.
Watch Esperanza Spalding jamming with Bobby McFerrin on “Swing Low” below:
Of course, the Recording Academy, the folks who dole out the Grammys, have made many questionable decisions over the decades – giving Jethro Tull the award for Best Metal Performance, and nominating six-album-old Shelby Lynne as Best New Artist are just two of the most incredible – which has led countless critics to dismiss the awards as irrelevant. Yet, for both the kind of media coverage it enjoys and the kind of impact a win has on an act’s career, the ceremony continues to be known as “music’s biggest night”.
The ceremony however is essentially a worldwide-watched TV show and platinum-pushing acts translate into higher ratings. What’s striking about this year’s Record and Song nominees is that they include two of the most derided singles of the last 12 months. “Fancy” has been called out for being a study in inauthenticity, and “All About The Bass” a co-option of doo-wop whose body-positive message isn’t all that positive after all.
Watch Meghan Trainor’s “All About The Bass” below:
There’s no doing denying that Azalea and Trainor – along with the ubiquitous Taylor Swift who has released better compositions than “Shake It Off” – represent the cultural zeitgeist of 2014. My main issue then is that there were far more deserving candidates for the big four categories. The songs that will in all probability crown Billboard’s year-end countdown, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and “All Of Me” by John Legend would have been relatively better if equally safe choices. But they suffered from an Oscar-like disadvantage. The Grammy eligibility period runs from October 1 to September 30, and “Happy” and “All Of Me”, which were slow burners on the charts, were released before this time frame. While record companies and artists get around this by submitting live versions of the songs – “Happy (Live)” and “All Of Me (Live)” are in fact nominated in the Best Pop Solo Performance category – it’s likely that many Recording Academy members forgot about them while casting their votes because they were released so long ago. This is probably why “Let It Go” from Frozen, arguably the past year’s largest pop culture phenomenon, was also shut out from the main categories.
Even apart from these, there were plenty of other hits that should have got some love. Among them US top five smashes “Am I Wrong”, Nico and Vinz’s smooth blend of African rhythms and Scandinavian pop hooks, and “Pompeii”, Best New Artist nominee Bastille’s synth-pop hymn of resilience. And if they were really seeking to “honor artistic achievement…without regard to chart position”, it’s an absolute ignominy that not a single nomination was bestowed on one of the year’s handful of perfectly-crafted pop singles, Ingrid Michaelson’s catchy musical commentary on modern-day relationships “Girls Chase Boys”.
Watch Nico and Vinz’s “Am I Wrong” below:
Watch Bastille’s “Pompeii” below:
Watch Ingrid Michaelson’s “Girls Chase Boys” below:
When such commercially-oriented fare gets overlooked, it’s unsurprising that the year’s most critically acclaimed album – The War On Drugs’ beautifully layered Lost In The Dream did not find a place even among the Best Alternative Album nominees. On the bright side, two pop tunes that manage to conjure that magical balance of infectiousness and sincerity now have a better shot at winning the Record and Song categories. I’m placing my bets, and hopes, on either “Stay With Me”, a heartbreak ballad of the kind beloved by Grammy voters, and Sia’s “Chandelier”, a dance-pop anthem that’s full of pluck and pathos in equal measure.
Watch Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” below:
Watch Sia’s “Chandelier” below: