Lotta rap and a buncha Brits: assessing the Grammy nominees

[9 December 2008]

By Ben Wener

The Orange County Register (MCT)

Once again, stars from hip-hop and R&B nabbed the most nominations for next year’s Grammy Awards, which were announced (in part) for the first time during a live television event Wednesday, broadcast from Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.

(Did you see co-host Taylor Swift destroy “I’m Sorry” during that telecast? Do you think Foo Fighters really pulled off “You’re So Vain”? Am I nuts for wondering if Celine Dion is the only one who did right by her Grammy Hall of Fame selection, Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen”? Did anyone actually watch this thing?)

Anyway, whether any of the giants of the genres - Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Ne-Yo, perennial sore loser Kanye West - will wind up the evening’s big winners when trophies are handed out Feb. 8 at Staples Center ... well, that’s another matter.

Lil Wayne, whose album “Tha Carter III” has been arguably the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful rap album all year, leads the pack with eight nominations, though apart from Wayne’s nod in the album of the year race, all of his honors came in rap fields. In two categories, in fact - best rap song and best rap performance by a duo or group - he squares off against himself. (Curious that “Lollipop” didn’t make the cut for at least record of the year, though.)

Coldplay garnered seven nominations, either for its album “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends” or for its abbreviated title-track single. For the first time in several years, Chris Martin and the British quartet stand as the only act capable of sweeping the three big awards - for album, record and song of the year. The only other candidate who could pull off a similar (but not exact) hat-trick is another English artist, newcomer Adele, seeing as the best new artist nominee is also up for record and song of the year for her hit “Chasing Pavements.”

Rounding out the album of the year category are “In Rainbows,” the celebrated sixth album from Radiohead; “Raising Sand,” the equally exalted collaboration from Robert Plant & Alison Krauss; and “Year of the Gentleman,” from Ne-Yo, who picked up six nods overall. Radiohead and Plant & Krauss gathered five apiece.

Plant & Krauss also landed in the record of the year category, alongside Coldplay, Adele, M.I.A. (for “Paper Planes”) and another English newcomer, Leona Lewis, whose “Bleeding Love” also makes a Grammy nominee out of a famous fellow Brit - Simon Cowell, who co-produced the track.

In addition to “Viva la Vida” and “Chasing Pavements,” the song of the year race, a songwriter’s prize, includes “American Boy,” a hit for Estelle and Kanye; “I’m Yours,” earning one of a pair of nominations for singer-songwriter Jason Mraz; and the infectious anti-love-song “Love Song,” from Sara Bareilles.

Considering her other high-profile nods, Adele would seem a sure bet for best new artist - that is, if tween sensation the Jonas Brothers don’t steal it from her. Also making the cut in the category: that other English blue-eyed soul singer, Duffy, country trio Lady Antebellum and breakout R&B vocalist Jazmine Sullivan, who walked away with five nods overall.

Most of the aforementioned women - Adele, Duffy, Bareilles, Lewis - square off in the competition for best female pop vocal performance, along with Katy Perry (for “I Kissed a Girl”) and Pink (for “So What”). On the men’s side, Ne-Yo and John Mayer (whose “Say” helped him earn another five nominations ... what is that now, a buhjillion?) will face Mraz (for “I’m Yours”) and Kid Rock (for “All Summer Long”) as well as two legends, Paul McCartney (for “That Was Me”) and James Taylor (for his cover of “Wichita Lineman”).

As usual, that’s only one of many kooky, lopsided nominee mixes.

With 110 categories to fill, the Grammys sometimes strain to make certain fields as rich as they should be.

Another good example: best solo rock vocal performance, in which a live track from Mayer (“Gravity”) and a self-remake from McCartney (a new version of “I Saw Her Standing There”) battle against an album cut from Neil Young (“No Hidden Path”), a gem from Bruce Springsteen (“Girls in Their Summer Clothes”) and Eddie Vedder’s “Rise.”

Other face-offs are much tougher: Best rock album pits Coldplay and Kid Rock (“Rock N Roll Jesus”) against the Raconteurs (“Consolers of the Lonely”), Kings of Leon (“Only by the Night”) and Metallica (“Death Magnetic”), the latter of whom also turned up in best metal performance (natch) and best rock instrumental performance.

The R&B fields are the most consistent overall, fairly evenly sharing nominations between today’s hit-makers (Ne-Yo, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Usher, Jennifer Hudson) and veteran favorites (from the incomparable Al Green, who got three nods in all, to Boyz II Men and Raphael Saadiq). Likewise, the hip-hop races are filled with smart choices: The contest for best rap album - Jay-Z’s “American Gangster” vs. Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter III” vs. Lupe Fiasco’s “The Cool” vs. T.I.‘s “Paper Trail” vs. Nas’ self-titled latest - is a pretty unimpeachable batch that stands tall as the best 2008 has offered from the genre.

The same story mostly holds true for the country categories, where old standbys like George Strait (five nods), Brooks & Dunn, Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood and Lee Ann Womack could get robbed by relative upstarts like Sugarland, Rascal Flatts, the SteelDrivers and Jamey Johnson.

Radiohead, whose “Rainbows”-related noms range from best rock song (for “House of Cards”) to best short-form music video (also for that song), seems a sure bet for best alternative music album, where the quintet faces Beck (“Modern Guilt”), Death Cab for Cutie (“Narrow Stairs”), My Morning Jacket (“Evil Urges”) and Gnarls Barkley (“The Odd Couple”). And when you think about it, Radiohead really got six nods, seeing as guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s haunting and inventive score for “There Will Be Blood,” stupidly snubbed by the Oscars, got a nomination for best score recording here.

Best dance recording is another crop I can mostly abide by, with hits from Rihanna (“Disturbia”) and Madonna (“Give It 2 Me”) squaring off against efforts from Hot Chip and Daft Punk. (Lady Gaga should be banished from that roundup, though at least she belongs. Unlike Cyndi Lauper, whose “Bring Ya to the Brink” has strangely been tossed in with releases from Moby, Daft Punk, Robyn, Brazilian Girls and Kylie Minogue for best electronic/dance album.

The Eagles are perhaps the most-snubbed band, as its “Long Road Out of Eden” album was relegated to less-esteemed awards like best pop instrumental performance (along with, to be fair, best pop album). Kathy Griffin’s plea/ploy to nab a Grammy nomination, by titling her album “For Your Consideration,” worked - she landed in the best comedy recording race, along with last year’s winner, Flight of the Conchords, plus Lewis Black, Harry Shearer and the late George Carlin.

I’m tickled to see Zappa Plays Zappa get a nod for best rock instrumental performance for redoing “Peaches en Regalia.” Nice, too, to see Nine Inch Nails get noticed for all that atmospheric “Ghosts” stuff. Happy about Juno getting a best soundtrack nod, though I suspect “Mamma Mia!” or “American Gangster” or “Sweeney Todd” will beat it.

You’ll find Steve Martin and Stephen Colbert pitted against Sidney Poitier in the spoken word category. And how funny is it that Judd Apatow, Jake Kasdan and John C. Reilly can all call themselves Grammy nominees now? Their parody song “Walk Hard,” penned with longtime cult hero Marshall Crenshaw (another first-time nominee?), is up for (deep breath) best song written for a motion picture, television or other visual media. In which it will lose to John Mayer’s “Say.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/66707-lotta-rap-and-a-buncha-brits-assessing-the-grammy-nominees/