The machinations of Grammy voters confound people every year and last night's nominations – the first under the new streamlined categories – are no different. Here are the Top 5 Grammy head-scratchers (I know, it's hard to limit it to 5!) from the nomination field:
1. Skrillex. Congratulations and all to 23-year-old Sonny Moore for the best new artist nomination, but I really am at a loss at explaining how it happened. My best guess is that the Grammy council wanted to recognize dubstep somehow to show that it's not out of touch with the kids. But picking the middle-of-the-pack Skrillex over a more worthy dubstep pioneer James Blake shows that while major labels, like Skrillex's Atlantic, may be declining in the marketplace, they still have a lot of pull when it comes to awards. Somehow, Skrillex also landed another four nominations – in the dance categories, for production and short form video.
2. Bon Iver. The indie heroes should have been nominated for best new artist in 2007 for the spectactular “For Emma, Forever Ago,” but weren't. Many will quibble about them getting a best new artist nomination now, but under the Grammys' weird category descriptions, it kinda fits, considering how this year's “Bon Iver” album made a No. 2 debut. My confusion lies in the rationale of the other nominations. Picking “Holocene” as song of the year makes sense since that award is supposed to be based on the song's craftsmanship, but picking it for record of the year, which is supposed to encapsulize the year in music, is a bit of a stretch. It's a great song, but its niche appeal makes the broader award seem misplaced. Of course, even that makes more sense than the thinking that Bon Iver is best represented in that song than with its excellent “Bon Iver” album, which was passed over for album of the year in favor of the albums of two singles-oriented artists, Bruno Mars and Rihanna.
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3. Tony Bennett. His “Duets II” became his first No. 1 album ever, but Grammy voters didn't seem to notice. They didn't take the chance to nominate his duet with the late Amy Winehouse or the wild Lady Gaga in the general categories either. It's one thing for the Grammys to try to woo younger fans after so many years of skewing toward veterans, but it's another to penalize a veteran for not being a twentysomething.
4. Kanye West. He landed seven nominations, but only one outside of the hip-hop categories, including two categories where he will battle The Throne, his collaboration with Jay-Z. And after being a perennial also-ran in the album of the year category, arguably his best work “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” wasn't even nominated. He has even more reason to rail against the Academy now.
5. Taylor Swift. How quickly the Academy forgets. Swift's “Speak Now” was a leap forward for the country singer-songwriter and it sold incredibly well last year, released after the Grammy deadline. However, after winning album of the year in 2010 for “Fearless,” she was shut out of the top categories this year, getting three nominations all in the country category. Yes, Skrillex got more nominations than Taylor Swift. We saw that coming, right?
Of course, there are also plenty of nominees to root for. Here's some of our favorites:
HOMETOWN GLORY: Massapequa native Brian Setzer landed a best pop instrumental album nomination for “Setzer Goes Instru-Mental,” while Long Island-based Dream Theater got a nomination for best hard rock/metal performance for “On the Backs of Angels.” Take that, John McCain.
BEST DANCE RECORDING: The influence of dance music in pop culture continues to grow and this category is packed with a variety of reasons why. From Duck Sauce's odd “Barbra Streisand” to Swedish House Mafia's anthemic “Save the World,” there is plenty of skill here. (Yes, including Skrillex.) But our hearts are with Robyn's lovely “Call Your Girlfriend.” If the Swedish singer-songwriter could take home best dance album too, that would be awesome.
ROCK OF AGES: Rock has a very strange definition (or lack thereof) these days and the best rock song category reflects that. It includes Coldplay's dance-poppy “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” the folkie “The Cave” from Mumford & Sons and “Down by the Water” from The Decemberists, and the experimental “Lotus Flower” from Radiohead. The only nominee that won't start an argument is Foo Fighters' fantastic “Walk” and that's why it should win.