Breaking Down the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards Nominations

On 1 December 2010, the nominations for the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards were announced. There are surprises, there are snubs, and there are met expectations. RECORD OF THE YEAR

"Nothin' on You" B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars

"Love the Way You Lie" Eminem featuring Rihanna

"Fuck You" Cee Lo Green

"Empire State of Mind" Jay-Z & Alicia Keyes

"Need You Now" Lady Antebellum

Record of the Year covers the overall package. It's the award recognizing the five best recordings of the year as voted on by the entire academy. It's driven by radio play and the new shiny toy. I'm surprised that Lady Gaga isn't here for any of her three eligible hits ("Alejandro," "Bad Romance," "Telephone") as those songs are nothing if not perfectly packaged dance pop. I anticipated "Airplanes," not "Nothin' on You" as B.o.B.'s nomination, and certainly didn't expect Eminem to show with his rather lackluster singles. Otherwise, the category is as expected. I would have loved to see Norah Jones get some love here as I think "Chasing Pirates" is her most polished single, or even one of the huge rap collaborations from Drake or Lil Wayne that featured everybody in the industry, but they all get their moment this year.

I'm thinking "Need You Now" will take this as "Fuck You," though superior, will be too off-putting for much of the voting body.

SONG OF THE YEAR

"Beg, Steal or Borrow" written by Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs

"Fuck You" written by Cee Lo Green

"The House that Built Me" written by Tom Douglass & Allen Shamblin

"Love the Way You Lie" written by Alexander Grant, Holly Hafferman & Marshall Mathers (nee Eminem)

"Need You Now" written by Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott (nee Lady Antebellum & Josh Kear)

This is another somewhat squirrelly category. Song of the Year recognizing the actual composition. The academy members vote for the five most well-written songs released in the eligibility period. Again, they are distracted by shiny objects and the newest thing, though with stronger biases than Record of the Year. Of course "Fuck You" and "Need You Now" are here, as they are without a doubt the two best written commercial songs of the year. "Beg, Steal or Borrow" (which should lose for skipping the Oxford comma) is a well-done late 1960s/early 1970s folk song but ultimately nothing more. 'The House that Built Me" is a good, not great, composition sold by the ever impressive Miranda Lambert. "Love the Way You Lie" is nominated because the academy still thinks it's 2002 and Eminem is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I'd like to have seen Bruno Mars get in for "Just the Way You Are" as that was the most polished pop composition of the year. I wouldn't have minded Norah Jones for "Chasing Pirates" or even something really out there like "Tighten Up" by The Black Keys. It's not a bad cross-section of the industry (yes it is, one hip-hop song, one alternative/crossover, and three country), just a disappointing one. The winner is also probably going to be Lady Antebellum as, once again, "Fuck You" is too offensive for much of the conservative voting base. ALBUM OF THE YEAR

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

Recovery by Eminem

Need You Now by Lady Antebellum

The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga

Teenage Dream by Katy Perry

I can explain each of these nominations in term. Spoiler: I agree with two, maybe three of them.

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire is part of the usual growth arc for Alternative bands the academy grows fond of. Think when The White Stripes started getting a lot of big nominations. They'll have support, but not enough to take the top prize. I know there are people who hate this album, and I know it's because they don't want to admit that their favorite small unknown band is becoming popular. It's very good.

Recovery by Eminem is nominated because the academy has always loved Eminem. It doesn't matter what he does, he will be nominated in a big way. Not to invoke racism, but there is something to the idea that he's getting nominated so much because he's a white rapper with hip-hop credibility. He has the skills. I don't think he put them to good use on this album.

Need You Now by Lady Antebellum is the token country nomination. The branch is big enough to get at least one country album in for the big prize every year. Thankfully, this is a good one by a worthy group. I really like this album and hope they take the prize. They have the best shot of the albums I do like.

The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga is an album I predicted would be nominated last year and was laughed at, even by some of my friends working in the music industry. Isn't it just her first album tacked on to a handful of B-sides? No. Lady Gaga wouldn't release B-sides. This isn't Gwen Stefani's second album, this is a well-executed experimental dance album by one of the strongest new voices in the music industry. The album peaked to early to win (no nomination for Song or Record is pretty damning for her) but it's good to see her show for my favorite album of the eligibility period.

Teenage Dream by Katy Perry is an interesting case. You see, when a record label perceives their artist was snubbed in a big way, they will campaign their asses off to get "we told you so" nominations the next time the artist is eligible. Katy Perry was "snubbed" for Best New Artist a few years back and her label was pissed. So was she as they inflated her ego enough to believe she could walk on water and raise the recently dead. The nominations for Teenage Dream aren't without merit; they are, sadly, beyond expectations for a decent pop album thanks to strong arming by a powerful record label. She won't win much on the big night.

From here, I'll skip to the more interesting categories.

For example, if you'll join me over at Best Dance Recording, you can join me in my 15 minute dance party.

BEST DANCE RECORDING "Rocket" by Goldfrapp

"In for the Kill" by La Roux

"Dance in the Dark" by Lady Gaga

"Only Girl" by Rihanna

"Dancing on my Own" by Robyn

If any of these songs win, I'll be happy. What a wonderful, refreshing set of nominations. "Rocket," "In for the Kill," "Dance in the Dark," and "Dancing on my Own" were by no means smash hits. To see them nominated over some of the more mainstream dance fare of the nomination period is great. If I had to pick a favorite, it's La Roux. The song has all the challenging fireworks of Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster without being so obsessed with creating something new. It is, I believe, Lady Gaga's award as she's won two years running.

Let's venture on down to the complement category.

BEST ELECTRONIC/DANCE ALBUM

These Hopeful Machines by BT

Further by The Chemical Brothers

Head First by Goldfrapp

Black Light by Groove Armada

La Roux by La Roux

This would be the second of three categories where they could decide who wins by throwing a dart and I wouldn't care. If you like this kind of music, you should own all these albums. The Chemical Brothers have won the category twice before, but this latest album didn't get as much press as those. I'd say it's going to Goldfrapp, though nostalgia might win it for Groove Armada. I will say I'm happy to see BT break into the Dance field for the first time at the Grammys.

This next one is always one of my favorite categories. It makes me smile.

Best Urban/Alternative Performance "Little One" by Bilal

"Fuck You" by Cee Lo Green

"Orion" by Carolyn Malachi

"Tightrope" by Janelle Monae & Big Boi (if you click on no other song, pick this one; it's amazing)

"Still" by Eric Roberson Hey, look! It's the "we don't know what to do with your music because it doesn't conform to our traditional concept of rap/hip-hop/R&B defined by the mainstream radio stations" category. Always a pleasure to see some of the best songs be deemed too different to nominate otherwise. To put it in context, this is where India.Arie, Gnarles Barkley, N.E.R.D., Outcast, Erykah Badu, and even Jill Scott get placed for trying something intelligent within the greater "Urban" music scene. It's not really alternative, but I can't complain as, again, good artists get nominated for good, intelligent, well-crafted music.

Both Bilal and Carolyn Malachi use blues/jazz in the R&B idiom, which apparently makes them "Alternative." Janelle Monae and Cee Lo Green use older dance forms in the hip-hop idiom, which apparently makes them "Alternative." Eric Roberson layers two beats with a snap, which apparently makes him "Alternative."

The obvious winner is "Fuck You" as it has the most nominations, though you should check out all of these tracks. I forgive you for not know Bilal, Carolyn Malachi, and Eric Roberson, but it is inexcusable to no know how Janelle Monae is at this point. You know them all now and should track down their music. It will not disappoint you if you like R&B/hip-hop.

Final Thoughts

Any big snubs? Yes. I genuinely expected Ke$ha to get in for "Tik Tok" as that song was inescapable this year. Nicki Minaj, the ubiquitous hip-hop artist of the nomination period, was only nominated with Ludacris. I really thought she peaked at the right time to get in for Best New Artist. If nothing else, I thought "You're Love" would have gotten in for Short Form Music Video or R&B Vocal Performance. Perhaps everyone else following the potential nominees got a leaked copy of her lackluster debut album. I'd have liked Sade to break in Record or Song of the Year for "Soldier of Love".

It's not a bad year, just a strange year. There were better choices for most categories, yet the academy went with artists who have done much better work (either this year or previous years) every time.