Each year the Recording Academy announces its shortlist for Grammys, and each year we're not terribly shocked. A little disappointed, maybe, but not surprised. We've been there, we've done that. We know that the only records that typically stand a chance are the ones played ad nauseum on mainstream radio. But this year there were more than a few reasons to have a little faith in the possibility of credit being given where it's way overdue.
Despite the assertion of the Grammy voters that record sales and chart positions aren't taken into account when deciding on nominees, they still managed to throw a lot of bones to artists who weren't hurtin' for album sales in the past year. Coldplay walked away with seven nominations (including a hat trick in the top three categories for record, album and song of the year), while Jay-Z, Kanye West and Ne-Yo each got six noms.
Alongside Coldplay in the Album of the Year category were Radiohead's In Rainbows and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's Raising Sand. In Rainbows was also named in six other categories in some way, from Best Rock Song to Best Alternative Music Album, and the Plant/Krauss collaboration was nominated in everything from pop to country to folk/Americana.
Stepping away from the major players, there were a few names we were happy to see pop up on the list. The Justice remix of MGMT song "Electric Feel" was nominated in the Best Remixed Recording category, No Age got a nod for Best Recording Package for Nouns and M.I.A. was shortlisted for Record of the Year for "Paper Planes." Cornelius is up for Best Surround Sound Album, and Producer of the Year nods went to Nigel Godrich -- for his work with Radiohead -- and Danger Mouse, who earned four other noms, for his work with Beck, The Black Keys and Gnarls Barkley. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones got a nod for Best Pop Instrumental Album (and Best Country Instrumental Performance for a song from the album), and Rufus Wainwright was nominated for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, which apparently requires that 51 percent or more playing time on the album be vocal tracks. We wonder who does the math on this stuff.
Daft Punk got some much-deserved attention for "Harder Better Faster Stronger" -- the track sampled by Kanye West for his song "Stronger" -- which was originally released in 1999 on Discovery. The live version, recorded on Alive 2007, was nominated for Best Dance Recording. The album was also nominated for Best Electronic/Dance Album.
Kings of Leon got three noms for Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Album and Best Rock Song for "Sex on Fire". The Best Rock Song category also features Bruce Springsteen ("Girls in Their Summer Clothes"), Radiohead ("House of Cards"), Death Cab for Cutie ("I Will Possess Your Heart") and Coldplay ("Violet Hill"). The Raconteurs also got a nod in Best Rock Album.
Best Alternative Music Album was another category with a lot of favorites -- Beck, Death Cab For Cutie, My Morning Jacket and Radiohead -- and of course we can't forget the spoken word and comedy categories, which feature the likes of Al Gore, Steve Martin, Stephen Colbert, David Sedaris, Lewis Black, Kathy Griffin and the late, great George Carlin. In the Soundtracks category we were happy to see a nom for Juno -- lots of good music there from The Kinks to Belle and Sebastian to Mott the Hoople.
But even with these glimmers of hope, the Grammy nominations still leave us with lots of questions. Questions like, what do Grammy voters think the difference is between hard rock and metal? We're not saying there's not a difference, but with Judas Priest nominated in both categories, we wonder what they think it is. In fact, many of the nominated bands and artists pop up in several categories, like the Plant/Krauss identity crisis of pop/folk/country/Americana, and the classification of Radiohead as both rock and alternative music.
Maybe one of the reasons we don't see some of (we think) the most deserving bands coming up in this shortlist each year is that there isn't a category they'd fit into. Popular music has expanded so much in 51 years, and though the Grammys have added lots of frighteningly specific categories (Best Tropical Latin Album, Best Hawaiian Album or Best Album Notes, for God's sake, and 110 categories in all), there are still boat loads of bands that wouldn't fit into any of them. "Rock", "pop", "rap" and "alternative" just aren't enough anymore. Best electro-acoustic noise pop album? Best funk album or garage rock song of the year? Best punk vocals? Best use of reverb? If you're giving an award to someone for writing witty liner notes, you're a step away from giving out awards for clever acceptance speeches anyway.
Maybe it's a futile request, but we're making it anyway -- for Christmas from the Recording Academy, we want new categories for 2010. We'd even make them up for you.