Q: Why didn’t [your favorite artist] get nominated for Song, Album, or Record of the Year?
A: Nominations in the Big Three categories are designed to recognize achievements beyond those of the artist. That’s why none of these awards have the word “artist” in them.
Song of the Year, then, is given for the best song. Not a performance of it, but the song itself, as it exists in the abstract. The person who wins this award is the songwriter. Go pull up your artist’s latest release on Wikipedia and check whether they wrote their own songs, helped write them (i.e., aren’t the first name on the list), or weren’t credited at all in that column. The latter two options are the norm in the world of pop.
Record of the Year—wait, you know what a record is, right? Too many people seem to think that word means nothing beyond a flat black disc of vinyl in your parent’s collection. The English language has these pairs of nouns and verbs with related meanings but opposite syllables stressed: a rebel likes to rebel, I permit you to hold a permit, and you record a record. So this award is for what actually gets committed to tape, copied onto CDs, and sold through iTunes. The result is considered holistically as the sum of the artist’s performance, the mixing, the engineering, and the production work.
Album of the Year is in the same spirit as Record, with all in-studio contributions considered as they affect the quality of a full-length release. So if your artist didn’t get a nod for any of these awards, it’s probably because they’re surrounded by losers who are wrecking their potential masterpieces. Personally, I’d blame those session musicians they brought in to add the strings on the bridge.
By the way, all but four of the Grammy awards’ categories are genre-specific: the “General field” consists of the three big ones above plus Best New Artist. Rather than their actual debut, Best New Artist nominations go to “the first recording which establishes the public identity” of an artist, which is why fun. is up in that category despite the existence of Aim and Ignite (2009). Apparently Top 100 on Billboard, Top 25 in digital album sales, and Top 5 on the Tastemakers chart aren’t enough to “establish” anything.
Q: But [your favorite artist] is/has a FABULOUS songwriter and the production work is MAGNIFICENT and everything they’ve ever released has been GLORIOUS!!!
A: Okay, that’s not a question, and you need to calm down. While you do, check out this aside: the year of eligibility for the 55th Grammy Awards is from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012. Rather than be released between those dates, new work must have “first achieved prominence” in that range to be considered for an award. Hence Gotye’s three nods for a song and an album that dropped in the summer of 2011.
Anyway, let’s assume that you’re right about the magnificent glory etc., and that your artist’s new hotness is eligible. To win the award, their work needs to be nominated; to be nominated, it needs to be submitted and elected. But you can’t submit it. The only people who can do that are members of the Recording Academy and record labels who are registered with the Academy. If your artist is a genius living on the fringes of the indie world, tough luck! If they’re signed to a major, but the bigwigs are trying to push someone else on their roster and don’t want to split the vote with too many submissions, tough luck! At least, that’s the sort of scenario I envision.
Who votes for nominees? (See, that’s a question. With a question mark.) There are a few different ways to become a voting member, including by winning a Grammy within the last five years. Fans at home don’t get votes, though. The Grammys’ pomp and circumstance derives from the peer recognition that they signify. People striving for success in music industry are recognizing those who achieve the same. Though I believe that Academy members are fundamentally goodhearted people, many of the voters are heavily invested in, or simply are, the nominees themselves. Keep in mind the bias that might come into play when sections of voters stand to gain financially from the sales bump an artist enjoys after receiving such a prestigious and public award. Votes determine who gets nominated before votes determine who wins, so feel free to label your snub an insider conspiracy.
Q: Dang. Well, I’m also kind of into [your favorite hip artist] who surprised a lot of people by getting nominated for some Grammys this year. Do you think they’ll win?
A: Underdogs are not favored to win. Surprise! But don’t lose hope: Arcade Fire won Album of the Year in 2011. Heck, USA for Africa swept Song and Record with a charity release, and Toto won six Grammys the year they released “Africa,” none of which were for the song “Africa.” So stranger things have happened.
Q: Thanks, that clears things up. Say, who would you like to see win in February?
A: Readers might be wondering at this point just how F these Q’s are really A’d. Anyone who’s still here gets to indulge me. For Song of the Year, “We Are Young” is far more creatively constructed than any of the other options. I’ll admit that I haven’t listened through all the Album candidates, but I’d hate to see The Black Keys win anything just because it would vindicate the millions and millions of bandwagon fans who praised the band’s advent in 2010, unaware of their seven or eight earlier releases. And as a longtime devotee of Max Martin (a topic for another post), I find myself cheering for Taylor Swift to take Record, bringer of the pop-country apocalypse though she is.
Finally, a former pet band of mine who has recently earned decent publicity is up for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. Check out the song here, or watch this drum solo to see what really makes Halestorm great. The first minute or so is ordinary, but stick with it.