Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Grammy Album Of Year - What SHOULD Have Been Nominated?

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Holler!

This is a continuation of yesterday's entry, "Grammys - Album of Year NomNomNoms." Once again, 
in my opinion, an Album of the Year nominee should meet at least one of the following two requirements:
1. The album should be innovative / ahead of the curve.
2. The artist has taken risks, trying out musical/production/vocal/lyrical styles that are completely different from what's out there (and/or what's expected of him/her).

In place of Loud, Wasting Light, and Doo-Wops & Hooligans, the Academy should have nominated any of the following:

a) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. Yes, Kanye is a jerk, but he's an intelligent, introspective, and analytical jerk. As Minna says, Kanye's a tragic figure, filled with hubris, egotism, talent, power, and fame. This album, and the minnie movie accompanying it, Runaway, is a masterpiece, proving Kanye's genius. It's an analysis of loneliness from the perspective of one who has achieved fame, fortune, and loss. This all makes sense - Kanye's unbearable ego and search for validation through fame acts as a thin veil for his gaping insecurity and lack of self-worth.  

Kanye is a master sampler and producer, mixing the old with the new, the shiny with the gritty, but never leaving a rough, unfinished edge in sight. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is truly his OWN work, his own artistic vision. It's no wonder he's taken such a liking to GaGa - they're kindred spirits, living for their art. (Of course, GaGa has a closer connection to, and appreciation for, her fans, making her far more likable.) This is a real album, a whole body of work, rather than a bunch of single-worthy songs smushed together into twelve slots. It's filled with different colors and textures, both sonically and lyrically. It's an absolute shame that it wasn't nominated. The reason as to why is most likely political. I'm sure the Grammy voters are turned off by Kanye's unfiltered honesty and mistimed outspokenness, so they've nominated him in the untelevisized rap categories and only one major category, Song of the Year (for All of the Lights). That way, if he wins, he won't be an embarrassment. 

This album meets requirements #1 and #2. It's risky and experimental, mixing a bunch of different genres (including the blues, hip-hop, indie, electronica, and POP) and artists (from Fergie to Bon Iver) together. It's also ahead of the curve. Kanye's an innovator. As a producer, he's bound to have an effect on what's to come since so many clamor to work with him. Also, this album is at least as experimental, sonically and lyrically, as GaGa's Born This Way, but it sounds more accessible to the American radio POP ear. Therefore, other artists can take bits and pieces from this album and easily incorporate them into theirs without worrying about losing their mainstream fan bases.

b) Bon Iver by Bon Iver Speaking of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver owes at least a bit of his recognition from the Academy to Kanye, who raised the indie musician's profile by featuring Woods in Lost in the World. I wouldn't have even thought of including Bon Iver in this category if the group (led by Justin) hadn't received four Grammy nominations, three in the major categories! That's because I'm not a big fan of Justin's music - I only like a few Bon Iver songs. It's a bit too slow for me and makes me sleepy. Pot smokers love it for this reason, but that I am not, so I can't relate. However, I do have great respect for Justin's musicianship. Even though I don't foresee too many big time artists taking cues from this album, I love Bon Iver's disregard for what's trendy. For that reason, Bon Iver meets requirement #2.

c) Body Talk (Pt. 3) by Robyn Oh Robyn, how I adore thee. I could go on and on. For someone who started out as a teen POP star predating Britney, this girl's come semi-full circle (full circle will be when DJs play her on the radio and she gets back into the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, where she belongs.)

I love love love how soulful this album is. Who ever thought that dance music could be as emotional as an Adele song? Robyn, duh! We all love a good ballad to cry to, but Robyn addresses the same insecurity, pain, and desire for love that we all crave, while motivating us to get up and dance through the hurt, instead of lying under the covers like motionless mummies. How does she do this? She and her producers write many of the songs acoustically on piano or guitar, first, to capture the raw emotion. It's only after that they add the beats and silky layers of synths. This is in contrast to a lot of music on the radio, in which the melodies and production have been constructed first, with the lyrics written as an afterthought to the existing beats.

I love that Robyn makes dance music just because it's fun. She's not trying to be part of the current dance craze. She simply remembers what it was like to be a club kid during the '90s, so she tries to recreate that sentiment on Body Talk (Pt. 3). She's worked with such an eclectic mix of producers on this album, including up and comers Klas Åhlund, Billboard, Andrew Kleerup, and Röyksopp. Robyn reunites with Max Martin (Britney, N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry, P!nk, Ke$ha) on one of my two favorite songs, Time Machine. (My other favorite is Stars 4-Ever.) She works with Diplo (M.I.A.) on Dancehall Queen. I don't usually like Diplo's production (his songs have this tribal vibe that gives me jungle fever. I prefer an air conditioned 4 star hotel room. Thanks.), but even I really like this song! She exchanges verses with Snoop Dog on U Should Know Better - uber cool.

Body Talk (Pt. 3) is simultaneously diverse and consistent. Girlfriend's lyrics range from soulful (as mentioned previously) to silly (Exhibit A: that song with Snoop). The production remains light and airy throughout. This kind of dance POP is definitely more accessible than the heavy sound on GaGa's Born This Way album. This record meets requirements #1 and #2. The producers have created a sound that perfectly matches Robyn's style and personality. It's super fresh and super yum, like a bottle of Reddi-wip. Also, the fact that the songs are built from the ground up, first acoustically and then produced, gives them a sense of realness that makes them easier to emotionally connect with than songs from Britney, Usher, etc. Her lyrics and singing style are like nothing I've heard before. Furthermore, the sound is so accessible that I can totally foresee artists in need of chart-topping hits borrowing elements from this record. Robyn was robbed. She totes deserves this nomination.

d) by Beyoncé for the aforementioned reasons in the Rihanna Loud section of "Grammys - Album of Year NomNomNoms." 

In the last decade or so, the Grammys lost the credibility and caché they used to possess. Instead of nominating the best in music (as the Oscars nominate the best in film, no matter how large or small the film), they've nominated the most popular in music, making the awards show seem like a corporate attempt to make more money (which it is, but it shouldn't JUST be that). With Arcade Fire winning Album of the Year last February, things started looking up. It's encouraging to see someone like Bon Iver, who's music is so different from what we hear on popular radio, get three nominations in the major categories, of which there are five. Hopefully, this trend will gain momentum, and the Grammys will continue to look beyond the Billboard charts when choosing the nominees in the coming years. 

Make sure to tune into the Grammys on Sunday, February 12 at 8/7c on CBS!

Unapologetically, 

Gregory

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