Grammy Gripes

Where will you be for this year's awards? Not near a TV, we'd presume.

The Grammys
Mariahs up for album of the year? You gotta  be kidding.
Mariahs up for album of the year? You gotta be kidding.
For once, it was refreshing to hear Kanye West shoot his mouth off. "If I don't win album of the year, I'm gonna really have a problem with that," he told after the 2006 Grammy nominees were announced on December 8. "I said I was the face of the Grammys last year. I'm 10 times that this year," he boasted, kneeing decorum squarely in the groin.

But God bless the man who tries to breathe life into an awards show that's been without a pulse since the days of feathered hair. Today's Grammys are stale, uneventful, and hopelessly out of touch with the very world they're supposed to represent. The Oscars carry sway among filmmakers and moviegoers alike, while the Grammys mean nothing to anyone whose name's not on the list of nominees. Just how do they suck? Let us count the ways.

1) It's a major-label pimpfest. It's no secret that any artist not signed to a label giant need not hold out a hand for a prize. Far from being a valid representation of the year's best music, the Grammys honor only those acts with the most money behind them. Meanwhile, indies are left to hold their breath for the winners of Best Polka Album and other way-past-prime-time categories.

Among the top 25 categories this year, a grand total of one independent artist has earned a nomination (the Arcade Fire for best alternative album). In the past five years, not a single indie has been nominated for album or record of the year, despite a slew of significant releases, from groups ranging from Death Cab for Cutie to the Shins. Those two categories alone accounted for 50 nominees over that span; surely there was room for some Bright Eyes.

What's worse, the Conor Obersts of the world have little other recourse to exposure, since they're already excluded from MTV and commercial radio, the twin fealties of the big-label artists. The Grammys, it would seem, should be the one outlet where merit, not corporate backing, can still determine a musician's fortunes.

2) In blockbusters they trust. What Grammy tradition is more precious than the annual suck-up to blockbuster albums? If your record didn't push well over a million copies, don't bother waiting by the phone. Imagine what the Academy Awards would resemble if they followed such dubious logic: Wedding Crashers and The Fantastic Four would take home all the hardware, while Capote and Syriana would smile through gritted teeth from the cheap seats.

But the Grammy brainiacs are never ones to let sound reasoning get in the way of their hype machine. (This is a club, after all, whose membership requires only that your career span six commercial records, not to be confused with six good records.) So they continue to focus on smash hits, ignoring smaller, solid-selling LPs, no matter their merit. This leads to nominations so ass-backwards, you'd think FEMA were in charge of the proceedings.

Take Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi. (Please.) The disc, released by Def Jam/Island, is up for Album of the Year, primarily because it was one of 2005's biggest sellers. Sure, it's a solid pop album; a fun, disposable romp that leaves nothing to the imagination. And that's all it is.

Fiona Apple, meanwhile, drops what is widely regarded as one of the year's most ambitious and beguiling pop discs, Extraordinary Machine (Epic), and gets left out of the race. That album's sin: It was merely a critical favorite and sold only a couple hundred thousand copies. Never mind that it skated by on a fraction of Carey's promotional budget; throw Mariah's money into Fiona's record, and the Grammys might have called a different name.

3) Double-dipping? No problem! Why dicker with such formalities as what year an album was released, when you can simply honor your favorites every year? A song's eligibility, for instance, is based upon the year it hit the airwaves, rather than when it first hit store shelves. This nifty loophole explains how Green Day can rack up six nominations at the 2005 awards for its album American Idiot and be lining up for more Idiot rewards again; last year's rock album of the year has spewed forth this year's record of the year candidate, "Wake Me Up When September Ends." It's but another ingenious means to keep fresh faces out of the mix and to keep their precious awards safely predictable.

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