By Phil Gallo, Los Angeles
On a night when the Recording Academy recognized the genius of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message,” a pendulum coincidentally swung that may have brought a sea change in the Grammys. Rap is home to the old guard; rock is home to new names.
After years of seeing rock categories honor musicians from the 1960s, they have become fresh with the likes of Bon Iver, the Decemberists, Mastodon, Foster the People and My Morning Jacket. Rap, by contrast, is the domain of artists established as mega-sellers and individual brands – Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Dr. Dre and Eminem. For the casual fan, rock and RB are the genres where the names may be familiar, but to hear the music requires popping around the Internet rather than turning on the radio.
The 54th Grammy Awards nominations reveal love for music softer than the dance-party tracks that fill the pop airwaves, a victory of sorts for indie rock. Record and song of the year has artists (Bon Iver and Mumford Sons) who record for small labels (Jagjaguwar and Glassnote, respectively) and a third, Adele, who is signed to the indie XL in her native England.
With nominations for record, song and new artist, Bon Iver, the indie-folk alias used by Justin Vernon, is at the head of our list of surprises. And since his name was read in the big four along with Mumford Sons, we’ll consider Grammy darling Taylor Swift’s shut-out in those categories the year’s No. 1 snub.
Mumford Sons. “The Cave.” Released less than a month into the current eligibility period, the song reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, but never became a song that helped define the culture over the last year. They went 0 for 2 last year, but came out of the Grammys with the hottest seller among acts that performed on the telecast. A return visit could definitely help them set-up the release of their second album this year.
Skrillex. Electronic dance music artist Sonny Moore is up for new artist – a first for any DJ — and four other awards. Dance artists are lucky to get two nominations.
The easily mocked nomination. Where is it this year?
Pop Duo/Group Performance. The consolidation of awards to 78 from 109 meant the elimination of gender-based awards. This category, though, wins for the ultimate apples and oranges contest with Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse, Black Keys, Coldplay, Foster the People and Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera up for the prize.
American Roots Field. Despite the labeling Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues” as a folk album, the five categories here were full of promising contenders, among them George Kahumoku Jr., Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Gillian Welch and Gregg Allman.
Paul Simon. His “So Beautiful or So What” has performed well on the charts (peak at No. 4) and in sales (265,000 sold, reports Nielsen Soundscan) and was well reviewed by numerous major publications. He won 12 times between 1968 and 1987 and deserved recognition again this year.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. You win the Oscar for best score in March and then you get a Grammy nomination in December. That’s just the way it goes. Except this year, which is odd considering that “The Social Network” score a) sold well; b) attracted a youth market; and c) featured musicians from outside the film world.
Beyonce. Her album “4” scored a single nomination, for the song “Party” in rap/sung collaboration. The elimination of gender-based categories may have stung Ms. Knowles more than any other performer, except….
Taylor Swift. Used to be that if the Grammy nominating folk liked you, they were interested in what you were doing year after year. Look at Paul Simon. His song “Graceland” loses one year in the song category and bizarrely comes back the next to win as a record. Go figure. Swift’s “Speak Now” transcended the country genre yet that is where she will be competing in three categories. On the other hand, her promotion of the Civil Wars helped build an audience for the duo, which received two nominations.
Van Halen. Coy hints from the Recording Academy stated that the recently inked-to-Interscope Van Halen would be appearing on the reunion show. Neil Portnow bobbed and weaved his way through an explanation as to why they were a no-show, though it sounded like the Grammys themselves were the ones who were snubbed.