Question: Which of the following
received at least one Grammy nomination this year: Hillary Clinton,
Al Franken, Ruben Studdard, Sophia Loren, Bill Clinton, Mikhail
Gorbachev, Kenny G, Carl Reiner, Eric Idle, Bill Maher, Don
Cheadle, Quentin Tarantino, Jack Black, Martin Scorsese?

Mira Levitan

 

Answer: All of the above.

 

It took me at least 20 minutes to browse through the entire list
of nominees to pluck out those names that seemed painfully out of
place — a former president, a former first lady turned United
States senator, an American Idol runner-up, a washed-up soprano
saxophone player, a former Soviet leader, a handful of comedians, a
few actors and a pair of legendary film directors. I was also able
to locate at least five recently-deceased nominees: Johnny Cash and
his wife June Carter Cash, George Harrison, Warren Zevon and
Rosemary Clooney.

But I suppose you’re bound to get a large, diverse list of
nominees when you have 105 award categories spread across 30
fields. For the Grammys, “Best Album” isn’t
enough. The musical landscape must be broken down by genre,
subgenre, sub-sub-subgenre and sub-sub-subgenre with at least a
dozen awards handed out at each level. It was only by some fluke
that I wasn’t nominated this year, but I’m not upset.
My mantle is overflowing with Grammy statues as it is.

Thankfully only a few of the 105 awards will be presented during
this Sunday’s ceremony, but the mere existence of so many
categories undermines the premise of the award show. The Grammys
should take a cue from the Academy Awards and realize that less is
more. The fewer awards you give out, the more meaningful the awards
are.

Wouldn’t it be easier to combine categories such as
“Best Musical Album for Children” and “Best
Spoken Word Album for Children” into the more convenient and
respectable “Best Album for Children”? And why keep
“Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture,
Television or Other Visual Media” and “Best Score
Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual
Media” separate? And what exactly is
“Urban/Alternative” music? Apparently it includes
Erykah Badu, Kelis, Les Nubians, Musiq and OutKast. Was 50 Cent
left out because he’s too urban and not enough alternative,
or is it the other way around?

Beyond the number of categories, it is necessary to question the
timeliness of the nominees. According to the official Grammy Awards
website, this year’s nominees were culled from
“recordings released during the Eligibility Year October 1,
2002 through September 30, 2003,” creating a four-month gap
between the end of the eligibility year and the actual ceremony. I
remember watching the Grammys in 2002 and scratching my head when
OutKast’s Stankonia won for Best Rap Album. I thought to
myself, “As one of the best rap albums in history, of course
it’s deserving of the award, but didn’t it come out in
the fall of 2000?” Yes it did, said the All Music Guide. But
that’s just how the Grammys work.

This year’s Stankonia would have to be Eminem’s
“Lose Yourself” (from the “8 Mile”
soundtrack), which was nominated in five categories. Because it was
released on Oct. 29, 2002, it wasn’t eligible for a Grammy
until this year. Never mind that the Academy Awards already honored
the song nearly a year ago or that it’s one of the defining
songs of our generation, it still has to wait almost two years to
receive recognition from the music industry itself.

Another oddity is the nomination that Fountains of Wayne
received in the “Best New Artist” category. Apparently
the fact that Fountains of Wayne have been around for eight years
and have already released two successful, major-label releases
slipped past the Recording Academy. Well, at least they’re
finally getting some propers.

But year-in, year-out the most frustrating aspect of the Grammys
is the regularity with which the major awards (Best Album in
particular) seem to go to the best-selling artists of the year.
(Last year was a bit of an exception with Norah Jones, but she
subsequently turned into a multibillion-selling superstar and her
music is mild and inoffensive enough to not upset the masses, so
she doesn’t really count.) My real question is,
couldn’t the Academy, just once, go out on a limb and select
a little-known group who didn’t sell 10,000,000 copies like
the Libertines? Or maybe one who makes middle-aged squares
uncomfortable like 50 Cent?

Well, with album sales slumping miserably and the record
industry’s image becoming more tarnished every day, maybe the
time for them to take a chance at the Grammys isn’t too far
off. It sure as hell couldn’t make matters any worse for
them.

 

— Joel is a 37-time Grammy winner who has sold more
than 180,000,000 albums worldwide. Fan mail can be sent to
“mailto:j.ho@umich.edu”>j.ho@umich.edu.

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