FAQ: Grammy Snubs


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.

Dan and Brian from Earn This now have a film review site and podcast:

The Goods: Film Reviews

The Goods: A Film Podcast

Available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and more.

6 thoughts on “FAQ: Grammy Snubs

  1. Max Martin has re-peaked more times than Michael Jordan did and deserves recognition, but I think Gotye’s “Know” was the correct choice of the nominees. It’s that rare piece of pop that is immediate, emotionally resonant, somewhat unexpected, and not entirely derivative.

    For some reason, both Mumford & Sons and fun. strike me as forced-trendy and crossover-hipster in way that Gotye’s hit doesn’t. I mean, honestly, look at that stylization: “fun.” I really like “We Are Young” and “Some Nights” but my enjoyment of the band diminishes by about 25% just because of the name.

    And while I’m ranting… “Call Me Maybe” as a song of the year but not record of the year? Huh? Based on the criteria you outlined, few songs have ever been better qualified for the OPPOSITE to be true.

    Jepsen’s teasing, upbeat performance matched with the delightfully old-school disco production — not the rather unremarkable composition — are what made it THE hit of the year.

    Since November, I’ve been working on a post for this site where I go through every year from 1963 through 2012 and select the best and second-best pop records of each year (“Call Me Maybe” and “Somebody that I Used to Know” for 2012, for the record). I should really follow through on that.

    • Speaking of rants…I’m sorry to go all ‘get off my lawn’ here, but ‘Call Me Maybe’ is terrible. I have nothing inherently against a good pure pop song, but CMM’s melody is awful, and that’s 90% of the battle here. The chorus is supposed to be where these kind of songs sound, you know, fun and exhilarating…but those staccato, melody-free lines and weak synths are anything but. Bizarrely, the chorus deadens the song.

      And I know we shouldn’t analyze lyrics for these songs as though they’re words in a novel, but “Before you came in my life, I missed you so bad” (Really? How’d you pull that off?) is so egregious I can’t overlook it.

      So I guess I’m somewhat agreeing with Dan, but with more curmudgeony overtones.

      • “Before you came into my life I missed you so bad” is one of the stupidest lines ever. It took me awhile to warm up to “CMM” because of the chorus (and the stupid lyrics), but I think Jepsen sells it. She won me over. To each their own — I can’t disagree that the song itself is dull.

        • Alrighty, guys. Let me know which one of these you’d be more confident claiming:

          1. A plurality of the voting population, made up of artists and businesspeople whose day job and life’s work is in the music industry, made an objectively poor judgment about the quality of a pop song’s composition. That better choices were available is doubtlessly and rather immediately obvious to a considerate music-consuming layman such as myself.

          2. My unequivocal appraisal was made in haste without full consideration of facts that might be relevant. “Call Me Maybe” is, at the least, not ruled out as a reasonable nominee and an understandable selection for Song of the Year.

          All I’m saying is, when I disagree with the “expert” opinion (even if you find the required credentials suspect), my first thought is usually that there’s something I’m missing.

          Here, in particular, I’d note that the overwhelming success of the song among pop listeners is one of the best metrics of the song’s quality. (It certainly beat out any number of other releases with comparable promotional backing.) And if the song performed brilliantly while diverging from the standard formula in the ways y’all have listed, isn’t that further to the credit of the songwriters? The studio guru et al. have a hand in it as well, but be careful where you’re drawing the dividing line between composition and production in your head—it’s far from a “vocal melody vs. everything else” split.

          • Ah, the old “people who know more about the topic than you have spent longer thinking about it than you” trump card. One of my favorites.

            It’s true, these people know the pop music industry better than me. They ARE the pop music industry. Instead of dismissing their opinions, I should see what I can learn from them.

            You make a good point about “Maybe”, and songs in general: It is somewhere between tough and impossible to make a full distinction between a good record from a good song.

            For example, say you are fond of a particular crescendo. Is that the song or the record? Even if it’s written into the composition, doesn’t the execution of it matter as much as its existence and notation? Who gets credit for that crescendo?

            Who gets credit for the syncopated disco beats in the chorus of “Maybe”? The intoxicating background guitar in the background of “Somebody That I Used to Know”? In both cases, you can make the argument for the “song in the abstract” as you say, or the combined studio recording effort.

            It’s admittedly a more complex dichotomy than I sometimes give it credit for. I respect the difficulty in figuring out what to nominate where.

            Here are two thoughts that are sort of counterpoints, though:

            1: As you mention in the article, this is the pop industry voting on the pop industry. They are often supporting themselves or their friends or the person that will help get the label the most money in projected album sales with a nomination.

            In other words, I counter your trump card with my own: the recording industry is corrupt, broken, and hungry for cash, so you can’t trust a goddamn thing they say or do.

            2: This is just a hunch, but it’s something I’ve kind of guessed for the past few years: Song of the Year sometimes seems like a runner up category to Record of the Year. I have no evidence to back this up, but my guess is that some members of the Recording Academy nod to their #s 1-5 in the Record category, and their #s 6-10 in the Song category. Am I crazy?

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