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Wednesday, 12 December 2007 00:00

It’s Grammy season ... do you care?

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We’re rapidly approaching that part of the year referred to endearingly as “Grammy Season.” This is the time when we all gather round our televisions, going through post-Christmas/New Year’s holiday withdrawal, ready for another up close and personal reminder that, yes, pop music is in deep, deep trouble.

Or maybe it’s just going through its umpteenth “awkward stage,” falling all over itself in a fruitless effort to please everybody all the time.

So, with this year’s nominees announced, here’s a typically snarky overview of what’s to come.

Yes, Kanye West is up for the big cheese again, with eight nominations, one being album of the year for Graduation. We’re all hoping he’ll get it, too, if only to keep him from hijacking random awards ceremonies around the planet bemoaning his lack of recognition by the academy. I heard he once stormed an “employee of the month” ceremony at a TGI Fridays in Des Moines and punched the bar manager in the noggin before making off with all the wait staff’s “flair.” OK, so maybe this never actually happened, but it’s entirely possible.

Though he’s not in the running for the big one, Common is up against West for rap album of the year, a category that 50-cent is noticeably absent from. Common is genuinely good, which means he probably doesn’t stand a chance. Bummer.

If we were to hop in the wayback machine, and set the controls for “Grammy Season 1988,” there wouldn’t even be a group of awards oriented around rap. The catchall term “R&B” was the only available option to represent what was already a rapidly developing genre. However, the winners back then had names like Aretha Franklin and Smoky Robinson. The 2008 equivalents are Rihanna and Akon, which begs the question: what the heck happened to last names? Twenty years go by and the surname is suddenly blasé? Y’know, back in the day you had Sting and the Edge. Anyone else without a last name was probably a wrestler, homeless or an adult film star.

Let’s not even broach the subject of many current R&B singers’ heroin-like dependence on a studio tool lovingly named “auto tune.” The times, they are a changin’... but now they’re perfectly, inhumanly intonated. Yay.

Amy Winehouse is in the running for album of the year and best new artist, and her Back To Black is the closest thing to traditional R&B to achieve mainstream success in quite a while. While she’s not undeserving of the win, any chance she may have of actually attending the ceremony is drastically impaired by her perpetual... drastic impairment. Provided she doesn’t burst into flames, stab herself with a martini olive skewer or stumble into a gin mill between now and Feb. 10, she might actually stand a chance.

Unless by some miracle everyone gets hip to how tasty and engaging Feist’s latest, The Reminder, really is. “My Moon My Man” could win for “sexiest single used in a commercial that everybody’s heard but still can’t name the artist” category, if such a thing were to exist. But the odds still favor Winehouse.

In the rock world, things are looking a bit weird. American Idol “rockin’ rebel” Chris Daughtry actually has a whole bunch of nominations. Nickelback is in there, too. Ever pondered whether anyone would notice if Daughtry replaced Chad Kroeger as Nickelback’s vocalist? Me neither. Daughtry even finds himself on a list with Lucinda Williams (insert critical glimmer of hope here) and Bruce Springsteen (okay, more than a glimmer) and the White Stripes for best rock song. Yes, Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters are contenders as well. Scariest thing? Even with competition like that, the “artist almost known as the new frontman for Fuel” still has a chance.

What’s become one of the most frustrating aspects of the Grammy television spectacle is how much genuinely good music, however marginally ”included” in the program, is relegated to that annoying bar with the mile a minute text across the bottom or down the side of your TV screen. This is where artists included in the less glamorous musical categories wind up, due to time constraints, or seeming lack of hipness (every form of jazz for instance; all electronic music; rock, pop and country instrumental performances; blues; soundtracks; bluegrass and classical). Sad, because that’s where you’ll find albums like Robben Ford’s stellar Truth nominated in contemporary blues, or artists as diverse as Joe Satriani, Bruce Springsteen and Metallica competing for best rock instrumental. The Beastie Boys have some strange bedfellows in best pop instrumental, up against (not kidding) Chris Botti, Dave Koz and Spyro Gyra.

No matter how lovely and powerful The Calling was, Mary Chapin Carpenter winds up in this netherworld, corralled into the contemporary folk category with Ry Cooder, Steve Earle and Tom Waits, proving the academy still has no idea what to do with THAT guy.

The Shins, White Stripes, the acerbic but somehow charming Lily Allen, Bjork and Arcade Fire will battle it out for best “alternative” album — though I don’t think we yet have a firm grasp of what “alternative” means exactly. Maybe it’s emo. Maybe the new Arcade Fire sounds a tad like Meatloaf. Maybe nobody will get the chance to hear what an absolutely smoking picker Brad Paisley really is, even if he is nominated in best country instrumental.

There’s so much more worth mentioning, or at least poking fun at, but maybe it’s best to stop here. No matter how much many of us may whine about the validity of pitting one music in competition with another to see who or what’s “best,” no matter how much eye–rolling and elitist, hipster grumblings will escape our lips, we’re going to tune into the Grammy’s because we want to see what happens — or we want an explanation as to what happened. Your choice.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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